Feral's Reviews > Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia

Bones of the Master by George Crane
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's review
Jun 22, 2008

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Reading this book was a very mixed experience. It's the story of an american poet who is neighbor to a buddhist monk from Mongolia who escaped the ravages of the cultural revolution (in the 60's?). The monk's story of escape is woven in flashbacks through the course of the book. The relationship of the two poets is explored, and then they both go back to Mongolia so the monk can build a shrine to his teacher, so then it becomes travelog. Which I don't know how to spell. The thing is, I found the american poet character a little disagreeable, and since the story is told in his voice, there was an edge of not really trusting/liking the author, who doesn't seem to like himself either. Whether this is intentional as fiction, or whether it's just not a clear voice, I don't know, but it made me feel a little unsettled throughout the reading. You can't help but like the monk, though, and he is not painted in pedestal strokes. He is straightforward and funny. The interest for me came in with the revelation of the Ch'an (?sp) tradition which pre-dated the Zen tradition. The Mongolian monk was Chan. The american poet was a zen practitioner. So then there is conflict when the zen american watches the practices of the Chan monk which range from zen sensibility to witch doctor, pagan, herbal medicine, casting out of demons, conjurer, etc. As in Tibetan buddhism, evidently in Mongolia the buddhists embraced much of the preceding pagan culture. Then zen guy is blow away by this. Lots of little zen-ish poems are interspersed throughout the story - which you'd think would make a poet reader happy. But mostly I'm not drawn to sparseness of language in poetry - maybe this is why I wasn't fond of the author/main character, whichever he was. Or maybe it was because he was a little sullen and priggish. I hope the authors never read these things.

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