Category Archives: More Buddhist Fiction

Eliot Pattison Adds to the Inspector Shan Series with SKELETON GOD

How many bibliophiles do you know who anxiously await the publication of a new book in a series? The reader’s longing for the next instalment exemplifies the efficacy of narrative to expand meaning for the human experience. For often a fictional world becomes so real for the reader that she grieves when the story has ended.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce that Eliot Pattison’s 9th book in the Inspector Shan Tao Yun series was published in March. It is entitled Skeleton God (2017). Pattison’s first novel of this series, The Skull Mantra (1999), won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel in 2000. The series has been translated and published in over twenty languages. His work can be read on so many levels, from the cultural to the political to the spiritual. I read the Inspector Shan mysteries as fictional imaginings of lived religion in Tibet under Chinese occupation.

Here’s what readers can expect from Skeleton God:

Blurb: “In Eliot Pattison’s Skeleton God, Shan Tao Yun, now the reluctant constable of a remote Tibetan town, has learned to expect the impossible at the roof of the world, but nothing has prepared him for his discovery when he investigates a report that a nun has been savagely assaulted by ghosts. In an ancient tomb by the old nun lies a gilded saint buried centuries earlier, flanked by the remains of a Chinese soldier killed fifty years before and an American man murdered only hours earlier. Shan is thrust into a maelstrom of intrigue and contradiction.

The Tibetans are terrified, the notorious Public Security Bureau wants nothing to do with the murders, and the army seems determined to just bury the dead again and Shan with them. No one wants to pursue the truthÐexcept Shan, who finds himself in a violent collision between a heartbreaking, clandestine effort to reunite refugees from Tibet separated for decades and a covert corruption investigation that reaches to the top levels of the government in Beijing, China. The terrible secret Shan uncovers changes his town and his life forever.”

Praise for Skeleton God:

“Pattison‘s ninth installment provides an important history lesson little understood in the West with authority, nuance, and genuine suspense.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Edgar winner Pattison remains without peer at integrating a fairplay whodunit into a searing portrayal of life under an oppressive and capricious regime, as shown by his ninth Insp. Shan Tao Yun mystery. Even readers unfamiliar with the physical and cultural devastation China has wrought in Tibet will find themselves engrossed—and moved—by Pattison’s nuanced portrayal.” – Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*

 

About Eliot Pattison:

 

“An international lawyer by trade, Pattison spent many years in the backwaters of Asia, fascinated by how Buddhism shapes all aspects of people’s lives. He recently received the prestigious “Art of Freedom” award from the Tibet House, an international non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of Tibetan culture, founded by Columbia University professor Robert Thurman, actor Richard Gere and composer Philip Glass at the behest of the 14th Dalai Lama.

 

For more information on Eliot Pattison and his focus on Buddhism, visit http://eliotpattison.com/why_i_wrote_about_tibet.html

 

 

 

Karma and Mystery

I have noticed in my tracking of Buddhism and fiction that mysteries and Buddhism go well together; mystery novels with Buddhist themes and worldviews abound. Recently I was reading an interview of fiction author Susan Dunlap. The interview is entitled “Fiction is a lie that illuminates the path to compassion” (by Andrea Miller, Lion’s Roar [formerly Shambhala Sun] June 27, 2012) and in it Dunlap explains how all of her works are infused with Buddhism, how her work is Buddhist fiction. Dunlap is a mystery writer and while her Darcy Lott Mystery series reveals Buddhism most overtly, she maintains that Darcy LottBuddhism is behind all her writing because it is part of her worldview and she is “constantly weaving dharma into [her] stories.” Perhaps this is why Dunlap suggests that mysteries are a “succinct reflection of the Buddhist concept of karma,” because for a mystery to work, the victim of the mystery has “done something to set in motion the wheel of karma in their lives.” Further, Dunlap says that the detective who is trying to solve the mystery is looking for what is real. Isn’t this what the Buddha was doing under the bodhi tree?

Given this relationship between karma and mystery, readers of Buddhist fiction may not be surprised at the suggestion that the ultimate detective, Sherlock Holmes, acquired his best training during “the missing years.” In Arthur Conan Doyle’s work The Adventure of the Empty House, Holmes explains to Watson that after his plunge over the Reichenbach Fall with Moriarty: “I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head Llama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend” (Arthur Conan Doyle. The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Knickerbocker Classics). New York, NY: Race Point Publishing, 2013, p. 610).

Author Jamyang Norbu attempts to fill in the two year gap with Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years (2001, earlier published as The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, 1999). Norbu is a Tibetan political activist and writer. He lived in India as a Tibetan-in-exile for over 40 years before moving to the United States. Missing YrsHis Sherlock Holmes pastiche begins on the front flap of the book duster, where the publisher informs the reader that Jamyang Norbu merely discovered the story, carefully wrapped in a rusting box. When he opened the box he was greeted with an account of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures from India to Tibet as described by none other than Huree Chunder Mookerjee, the fictional spy who worked for t he English in Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Mookerjee travels with Holmes as he is subsumed into the “Great Game” and then onward to further Tibetan adventures. Apparently the novel suggests that Holmes’ already exceptional powers of observation were heightened and improved by what he learned about Buddhism from his time in Tibet and with the Lama.

JapanThere is also a current series of pastiches based on Holmes’ “great hiatus”. Bangalore author Vasudev Murthy has thus far written two books as part of his Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years series: Japan (2015) and Timbuktu (2016). According to the Amazon blurb, Japan includes monks as characters, but I am unsure if Murthy’s narratives intersect with Buddhism to any extent.

I haven’t read any of these Sherlock Holmes pastiches but would like to hear from anyone who has. I would like to know if the world’s most iconic fiction detective honed his skills through knowledge of Buddhism or any form of Buddhist practice. If so, how do the “missing years” align Buddhist practices of awareness and mindfulness with Holmes’ powers of scientific observation? Drop me a line and let me know.

 

 

 

Summer Reading 2016

Every time I go down the internet rabbit hole looking for new Buddhist fiction I am surprised about the novels I have somehow missed or overlooked. But I guess if I’m going to discover new-to-me titles, summer is the best time to find them so that I can share this information with you. Here’s what I’ve found recently, listed in no particular order (and feel free to add to the list in the comments section):

1 Cushman1. Enlightenment for Idiots  by Anne Cushman (Crown, 2008)

“A hilarious take on the quest for truth that manages to respect the journey while skewering many of the travelers… Cushman brings devastating wit and a thorough knowledge of her subject to her first novel, evoking an India that fills the senses and stirs the spirit even as it occasionally turns the stomach.” ~ Publishers Weekly

 

2 Portier2. This Flawless Place Between by Bruno Portier (OneWorld Publications, 2012)

“Evocative of The Alchemist, This Flawless Place Between is a spellbinding reimagining of one of the world’s most influential and treasured spiritual texts.” ~ OneWorld Publicasions website

 

3. The Angry Buddhist by Seth Greenland (Europa Editions, 2012)3 Greenland

“Seth Greenland’s timely new novel is set in the high California desert between the trailer parks and amphetamine labs of Desert Hot Springs and the classic mid-century architecture of Palm Springs. In this sun-blasted territory, with its equally arid social culture, a fiercely contested congressional election is in progress. The wily incumbent, Randall Duke, is unburdened by ethical considerations. His opponent, Mary Swain, a sexy, well-financed newcomer, does not have a firm grip on American history or elemental economics.” ~ Europe Editions website

 

4. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Vintage Contemporaries – Penguin Random House, 2014)

“In the beginning, it was easy to imagine their future. They were young 4 Offilland giddy, sure of themselves and of their love for each other. “Dept. of Speculation” was their code name for all the thrilling uncertainties that lay ahead. Then they got married, had a child and navigated the familiar calamities of family life—a colicky baby, a faltering relationship, stalled ambitions.

When their marriage reaches a sudden breaking point, the wife tries to retrace the steps that have led them to this place, invoking everything from Kafka to the Stoics to doomed Russian cosmonauts as she analyzes what is lost and what remains. In language that shimmers with rage and longing and wit, Offill has created a brilliantly suspenseful love story—a novel to read in one sitting, even as its piercing meditations linger long after the last page.”~ Penguin RandomHouse website

 

5 Groner5. Exiles: A Novel by Cary Groner (Spiegel & Grau, 2011)

“Suspenseful and thought-provoking, Exiles is an extraordinary debut in which East meets West at the point where lives hang in the balance.” ~ RandomHouse Books website

 

 

6 Dunlap6. Darcy Lott Mystery Series by Susan Dunlap (Counterpoint; Severn House, 2008 – 2016)

Darcy Lott is a Zen Buddhist, stunt-double and amateur detective. Susan Dunlap is an award winning mystery and crime author who infuses the dharma into her novels.

 

7. Your Emoticons Won’t Save You by Ethan Nichtern (Nieto Books, 2012)

“About the Book (a short novel with poetry):Your-Emoticons-Wont-Save-You-Ethan-Nichtern-209x300

Alex Bardo is witty, heartbroken, and lost. Going on 21, he is more interested in being the CEO of the Wannabe Poet’s Brigade than in his expensive education. Trying to find his way in the world after a debaucherous and painful summer of 1998 with his hyper-intellectual, trés annoying best friend Gabe, he sets out on a road trip to their childhood summer camp. Grabbing shotgun for the trip are his old camp friends, now all grown-up (sort of): Gideon the Player, Anthony the Traveling Man, and Lucas the Patron of Playtime. Alex is a true seeker and only a partial f-ck up: seeking spiritual aspirin to treat his perpetual hangover, seeking love, and seeking a mystical place called the “real world.””

8. The Stain: A Book of Reincarnation, Karma and the Release from Suffering by Charlene Jones (Stone’s Throw Publications, 2014)66076510-368-k130131

“We live more than once. When three women, Tahni, Mary, and Diana are separated by centuries and vast cultural difference, experience eerily similar events, only one of them knows. How will she find the courage to undo The Stain?” – blurb from Wattpad, where you can read the entire novel.

One Memoir, Two Works of Buddhist Fiction, and A Blurred Line

In this post I offer links to one memoir and two works of Buddhist fiction. I hesitated listing the memoir, Turtle Feet by Nikolai Grozni, since it is clearly a different genre than fiction. Of course, fiction is not all untruth, and non-fiction is not all truth. Even in some ethnography, there is a fine, blurred line between fiction and non-fiction. But what really helped me make the decision was Grozni’s caveat in the front matter of the book:

“Some things pertaining to time and space have been changed. Some names and identifying details have been changed. It is important to bear in mind, however, that most Buddhists regard time, space, names and identifying details as nonexistent.”

While I’m not sure that I agree with Grozni’s generalization of most Buddhists’ ontological orientation, I like the fact that he is willing to blur lines and genres. So without further ado, I offer the following suggestions for your reading pleasure.

3268590Turtle Feet by Nikolai Grozni (2009).

Buddhist Fiction Blog Contributing Editor Chris Beal has written an insightful review of this memoir on goodreads, which you can read here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/348781045

41Vr4-bEB5L The Kosambi Intrigue by Susan Carol Stone (2012).

worlds1-600x600Prunella Smith: Worlds Within Worlds by Tahlia Newlands (2014).

Summer Reading

Ah, summer. When the heat turns up, life seems to slow down a little, allowing time for more reading (hopefully!). And there is still enough time this summer to read at least one of the fantastic fiction novels I will mention in this post. These are titles that have popped up over the past year that, for whatever reason, I have not had time to mention on this blog. So please, do not let my posting tardiness keep you from an enlightening summer read. Here is a quick listing of two novels and two series complete with publisher’s blurbs and a link to a review, just to help you choose. Happy reading!

31SYtsNBLFL._SL500_ Tim Parks, Sex is Forbidden: A Novel
New York, NY: Arcade Publishing, 2013

This novel deals with the age old challenges of celibacy and teacher-pupil relationships in Buddhism.

From the Publisher’s website:

“Sex is forbidden at the Dasgupta Institute, the Buddhist retreat where Beth Marriot has taken refuge, and that’s a big advantage. Beth has been working as a server, assisting in the kitchen and helping out—discreetly, so the meditators aren’t disturbed. The meditators are making big sacrifices to come here and change their lives. So the servers must observe the rules, and silence and separation of the sexes are chief among them.

But Beth is fighting demons. She came here at a crossroads in her life, caught between an older lover who wouldn’t choose her and a young one who wants to marry her, and she may have caused another man’s death when she risked her own life swimming out to sea in a gale. A singer in a band, vital and impulsive, fleshy and sexy, she has been a rebel and a provocateur. And now, conflicted and wandering, she stumbles on a diary in the men’s dorm and cannot keep away from it, or the man who wrote it. At the same time, desiring—all too hard—to achieve the inner peace that Buddhist practice promises, she yearns for the example set by the slim, silent, white-clad teacher Mi Nu, and maybe yearns for something more.

Comic and poignant at the same time, swiftly paced and completely engaging, Sex Is Forbidden
is an entertaining novel about two profoundly different attitudes to life, and Beth—our narrator—is a character to be savored.”

Dan Zigmond review “Romance Rehab” in Tricycle Magazine: http://www.tricycle.com/reviews/romance-rehab

088ReviewsOnlyFiction Peter Matthiessen, In Paradise: A Novel
New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2014.

Mattheissen’s last novel is based on his experience of real annual Bearing Witness Retreats held at Auschwitz, coordinated by Zen Peacemakers organization and led by Zen teacher Bernie Glassman.

From the Publisher’s website:

“In the winter of 1996, more than a hundred women and men of diverse nationality, background, and belief gather at the site of a former concentration camp for an unprecedented purpose: a weeklong retreat during which they will offer prayer and witness at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform, while eating and sleeping in the quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews to their deaths. Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, has come along, ostensibly to complete research on the death of a survivor, even as he questions what a non-Jew can contribute to the understanding of so monstrous a catastrophe. As the days pass, tensions, both political and personal, surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to healing or closure. Finding himself in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer’s role and to embrace a history his family has long suppressed—and with it the yearnings and contradictions of being fully alive.

In Paradise is a brave and deeply thought-provoking novel by one of our most stunningly accomplished writers.”

Hawa Allan review “Only Fiction” in Tricycle Magazine: http://www.tricycle.com/reviews/only-fiction

New In Series

9781401941673_1 Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay, The Third Rule of Ten
Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Visions, 2013

This is the third book in a series written collaboratively by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. and Professor of Counseling and Tinker Lindsay, accomplished screenwriter, author, and conceptual editor. The first two novels were The First Rule of Ten (2011) and The Second Rule of Ten (2012).

From the Publisher’s website:

“Keep current with the truth: we’re only as weak as our secrets- especially the ones we keep from ourselves. That’s the Third Rule of Ten.

As the go-to private detective for a bevy of high-profile clients, our beloved ex-Buddhist monk, ex-LAPD officer, Tenzing “Ten” Norbu, has finally found his stride. With his beautiful pathologist girlfriend, a healthy bank account, and a steady stream of clients, courtesy of middle-aged movie star Mac Gannon and rising political star Bets McMurtry, Ten’s life is bursting with activity. But it’s not all joy and happiness. The death of his father and a growing abundance of secrets-both personal and professional-leave Ten feeling an unexpected depth of sorrow and confusion. Even with the emotional turmoil, nothing can stop Ten from taking the case when McMurtry’s housekeeper goes missing.

The investigation leads him down a dangerous path littered with bodies, untraceable prescription drugs, and human organ trafficking. But nothing is as shocking as the realization that the mastermind behind it all is none other than-Chaco Morales, a criminal that slipped through Ten’s hands once already. The Third Rule of Ten will have readers on the edges of their seats, as they learn, along with Ten, that there is a fine line between healthy privacy and unhealthy secrecy. Knowing the difference may just determine whether Ten will stop Chaco or lose himself.”

Tom Armstrong review of The Third Rule of Ten on the Progressive Buddhism blog: Private Eye Tenzing Norbu, central character in Dharma Mystery series.” http://progressivebuddhism.blogspot.ca/2014/07/private-eye-tenzing-norbu-central.html

HowPatienceWorks-cvr-thumb Janet Kathleen Ettele How Patience Works: The Quiet Mind to Benefit Others
Wayne, NJ: Karuna Publications, 2014.

This is the third book in the How Life Works Series by author Janet Ettele, author of a series of contemporary fables based on Shantideva’s teaching on The Six Perfections. The first two fables are How Generosity Works: The Intention to Benefit Others (2011) and How the Root of Kindness Works: The Virtue to Benefit Others (2012).

Overview from Publisher’s website: In How Patience Works, Troy continues his journey in the fable that began with How Generosity Works and How the Root of Kindness Works. The teachings of Master Shantideva’s Perfection of Patience provide the guiding wisdom that leads Troy as he struggles to conquer the internal tyrant of his own anger. Building on the lessons learned from Grace in How Generosity Works and Abe in How the Root of Kindness Works, Troy and his girlfriend Maggie encounter another sage. Mrs. Sternau is an elderly widow who is a regular customer at the diner where they work. The mysterious way she shares her wisdom that crosses between dimensions of time unfolds into teaching Troy the next lesson he needs to learn: Patience. Verses from Master Shantideva’s chapter on Patience provide the backbone of wisdom to the message Mrs. Sternau delivers to Troy.

Jennifer Campaniolo at Giving Notice Now blog review http://givingnoticenow.blogspot.ca/2014/04/review-how-patience-works-by-janet.html