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A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants

3.08  ·  Rating details ·  296 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Six years ago at the age of twenty-one, Jaed Muncharoen Coffin, a half-Thai American man, left New England's privileged Middlebury College to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in his mother's native village of Panomsarakram--thus fulfilling a familial obligation. While addressing the notions of displacement, ethnic identity, and cultural belonging, A Chant to Soothe Wild ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Da Capo Press (first published January 7th 2008)
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Apr 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
A memoir about a young man from Maine (Jaed Coffin)who feels torn between the culture of his father (American) and his mother (Thai). While in his third year studying philosophy at Middlebury college he decides to fulfill a family honor and return to his mother's village in Thailand and become a monk for the summer. (I was unaware that deciding a monk could be such a short term commitment). His hopes of reaching some inner enlightenment are often squelched by the routine and boredom he feels by ...more
Sarah Laurence
Dec 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was Middlebury College's freshman read of 2015. The author, like my daughter, grew up in Brunswick, Maine and went to Middlebury. During the summer following his junior year, Jaed became ordained as a Buddhist monk in his mother's rural hometown. This memoir describes Jaed's journey to reconcile his dual nationality (Thai and American), searching for an evasive spiritual awakening. I'd recommend it to anyone of mixed cultures, to those curious about Buddhism and Thailand and to all teens on ...more
Benjamin Rubenstein
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: paperback
The forest monks ate breakfast by a method called posom bat, or mixed bowl. Rather than dividing out the fruit from the river fish, rice, and meat, they ate it together. Aeg explained that this made him focus on the act of the food entering his body and not on how it tasted or what he liked the most. He chewed each bite slowly and mindfully and seemed to become more thoughtful every time he swallowed. ‘Everything is meditation,’ Aeg said. ‘Walking: meditation. Speaking: meditation. Eating: this
May 17, 2009 rated it did not like it

A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants – Jaed Coffin
1 star

Such a great title and such a disappointment. This is a memoir by a Thai-American college student who takes a semester off to return to his mother’s village in Thailand to become a Buddhist monk. It seemed that this might be a story of a young person taking a bold step to find peace with his mixed heritage. I found I was not impressed with this quest or with the author’s stilted writing style. I became very annoyed with his self- absorbed
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
So there I was confronted by the first poem of this book and I had not a dam idea what the hell it was about. That should had been my first warning. But it was my first college assignment so I figure I have to stomached it! I went on to the first page and six pages later I was in one of the best naps of my life, so if you want to sleep or for some strange reason like to be bored and disappointed at the same time… then my friend this is the book for you! I could not related to the guy and for a ...more
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's really nice to read an Asia travel/life memoir that isn't a screed about getting wasted at moon parties and nursing hangovers at a bar on Khao San Road. The author's curiosity about himself and his origins is authentic. I really appreciate his honesty about how he felt about the things he didn't find.
Matthew Seckinger
Jan 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
If the entire book could have read like the last two or three pages, it would have been wonderful. Seems like the author wrote this to make himself as unlikable as possible. I can’t stand the author. It’s too bad. This could have been a very worthwhile story to read. Instead, I feel angry and frustrated with the arrogance of this guy. Self-important drivel.

“When my mother sang ‘kry naw rak rao,’ my sister and I would call out, ‘chong ching chop chow!’”

“Ahead of me stood a group of sunburned
Feb 18, 2020 rated it liked it
A somewhat interesting read that seemed more like a personal diary. One man's quest to find himself, as he seeks his identity within his Thai roots. Because he is half American and half Thai, this book is a glimpse into Jaed Coffin's attempt to find what matters. His summer monk experience was insightful to me--I had no idea that Buddhists could become monks for very short periods and with all different motivations. By the end of the book, it seems he remains adrift. The poem about taming wild ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
It's really barely two stars for me. So little emotion in this book, it is flat as can be. I wasn't engaged at all by him or by those around him. I get like he should have explored his own depth of emotion before writing this book, or should have allowed himself that experience while writing it.
Adrian Delesdernier
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The visual imagery and conversational descriptions made the book easy to read and digest. Having been to Thailand myself I had a great appreciation for the Temples, the forest and the cave. I also appreciated his quest to learn about himself and how he describes his journey.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
i wanted this to be more of a dive into Buddhism and the practices, but much more of a coming-of-age book for the author. still enjoyed just not what i was hoping for
Erin Sunderland
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Heard this author tell a hilarious story on the Moth. This memoir was less funny but chronicles a coming-of-age experience that is unusual for most early 20-something Americans. Recommend!
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Cool story of a Thai-American college grad's desire to find himself by doing time as a Buddhist monk.
Jun 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, 2008, travel
This book was disappointing. It had a promising start: a college-aged guy sets out for Thailand to become a Buddhist monk and, essentially, to figure out who he is. His mother is Thai, his father was an American Vietnam War soldier. He returns to his mother's village, and is ordained as a monk. All of the expected cultural and language confusion ensues, as well as quite a lot of spiritual confusion.

The big problem here is that in a memoir like this, the reader is usually waiting for that moment
Apr 28, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a memoir written by Jaed Coffin, a half-Thai/half-white boy growing up in Brunswick, Maine, who decides to return to his mother's village in Thailand to study as a monk. Many Thai men spend a period of their lives at a Buddhist temple. Some stay for a couple weeks, others stay for years. Coffin spends one summer hoping to become more Thai, and to somehow find answers to the questions about who he is and where he belongs. This book is roughly 200 pages, but I felt it could have been so ...more
Carol Tensen
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
This book has some really good passages, however it doesn't hold together. I wanted to like it better.
Aug 18, 2014 rated it liked it
To start off, no spoilers. However, the ending left me with an empty hole in my heart. I'm not sure if I was satisfied or left blank. This book really took me into the mind of the main character and transported me to where he was, what he was doing, and what his purpose was. The most I could say was that a man became a monk, period. The whole story felt like a never ending circle with reoccurring events. Although if someone asked me to make a summary of this book, and I'm telling you my summary ...more
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
This memoir was written by Jaed Coffin, a U.S. student of half-Thai, half-American heritage, who chose to spend a brief period of time as a monk. The memoir takes place over the course of a few months time while the author was living as a monk in Thailand.

This memoir is a quick read and offer up general insight into identity and cultural differences, but never goes very deep. The last chapter, "A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants," for which the book is named, references a Thai poem about wild
Feb 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Jaed Coffin, the son of a Thai nurse and and US serviceman, at 21 decides to leave Middlebury College to return to his mother's village in Thailand and become a Buddhist monk. The writing is quite nice, and the subject matter is fascinating. Still, all in all, I would have welcomed a bit more insight, a bit more growth, and a bit more understanding of his own position of privilege in the world in what has been described as a coming of age story. Coffin names Jack London, Ernest Heminway and Jack ...more
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I always try to read a books by writers who will be speaking at upcoming conferences. I will see Jaed Coffin in August, so I wanted to get a "heads up" on what he writes.

This book is a memoir of the author's time in Thailand as a monk. His American father and Thai mother met in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

The author wanted to complete a time-honored Thai tradition of entering the temple and becoming a monk. Some men become monks for their entire lives; others for a few weeks. Jaed Coffin
Meghan Wyrd
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Nice, short read that revels in Buddhism. Kind of Life of Pi-esque in its searching. What I really loved is that he mentions Maine a couple times, and Brunswick specifically. The fact that I picked this book up at a Curtis Public Library book sale IN Brunswick and live in the next town over is very special to me -- I've never read such a local book before. I guess I also fell in love with the gift of autumn leaves pressed into a few pages which enhanced the atmosphere to no end.

Now I want to
Harriet M.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, travel
This book should really be a 3.5. It was a lovely and pleasant surprise. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Thailand or Buddhism. But it is also a coming of age story of a young man trying to root himself. Its skillful descriptions and spare prose drew me in -- although I think he could have used more depth in some places. I kept comparing it to Stephen Asma's very different The Gods Drink Whiskey. Coffin is a much gentler and more naive narrator than Asma and less self-concious. It's a ...more
Bobby Veliz
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is great book to read if you want to learn about about someone else experiences. See things from their eyes and how they felt. If your expecting a spiritual book about becoming Buddhist this is not the book for you. This is just a story about a young man trying to find his path in life and coming to an understanding with his heritage. If you have some time to spare and like to read about other peoples experiences this is the book for you.
Thing Two
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Thing Two by: Stonecoast
This is the story of one young man's summer trip to his mother's hometown in Thailand to become a monk-for-three-months. The author went to 'find himself', but the only thing he seemed to have discovered was how much longer his shaved eyebrows took to grow back than his shaved head. It is written as a memoir; it might've worked better written as a novel with a point. So much potential, so little reason to pick up this book.
Apr 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
This memoir showed me a side of Thailand I never really got to know as a missionary. It answered a lot of questions about what it means to become and be a monk. I also thought it was interesting to watch his struggle to find his culture (he's a half Thai raised in America) and his search for the meaning of things. Jaed did a good job of expressing his internal conflict that I think a lot of people face.
Michael Lawrie
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very awesome book on so many levels. A book about one man's multicultural search for his identity, a book about Buddhism, a book about love, a book about ourselves. What a great read.

Best chapter: "An Unsure Heart" -- man's search for his own identity with one of the core beliefs of Buddhism. As close to enlightenment as any of us is likely to get.

Best quote: "What is Buddhism in America like?"
"It's expensive."

I couldn't recommend this book more.
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
From Jaed Coffin's writing I got a real sense of a young man's confusion and wish to bridge his past and future, his relationship with the US and Thailand, his family. Appreciated many insights and recognized through his eyes my own glimpses of Thailand. Was disappointed only where the author did not flesh out enough of the details or just dropped certain themes.
Aug 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book because it took me on an adventure that I'd never experience otherwise. I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 because I thought it ended abruptly and was a bit incomplete. Perhaps this is what the author was aiming for, as it is simply a story of a life which is not yet complete. Overall, it was a good read and I feel good that the writer actualized his dream.
Jul 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a memoir about a half-Thai, half-white guy from Brunswick, Maine who went back to his mother's Thai village to be a monk for a few months. I heard him do a reading at my writers' conference. His prose takes after Hemingway and the story has some beautiful moments. It's a pretty quick read.
Aug 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Agree with Elizabeth, this book started off OK, but quickly went South. Basically, the kid doesn't know why he wants to become a monk, has no resolution, and still doesn't seem to even after a couple of years of reflection. Frankly I find it amazing that this got published as a full book. There's some life to it as an essay, an editor needed to drop the hammer on this guy.
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