A Buddist in Brooklyn
Buddhaland Brooklyn, by Richard C. Morais. Scribner, 240 pp. $25
At 11 years old, Seido Oda was sent to the Head Temple in his village of Katsurao, Japan, to train and study as a priest. Though he was not the oldest son, his father chose him to go because, as his older brother said, he was the favorite. Weeks later, his childhood home catches fire, killing his entire family.
With his past completely gone, Seido works to become a respected priest of the High Temple. And he succeeds, so much so that he is approached by his superior and told that he is being promoted to Brooklyn, New York, where he will build and manage his own temple.
Buddhaland Brooklyn is as fish-out-of-water as they come, and brilliantly so. The entire story is told from Seido’s perspective, which only heightens the disjointedness between his personal Buddhist beliefs and practices he finds in his Brooklyn believers, those who see Buddhism as an “alternative religion,” and not as a mainstream way of life:
If I had to hear one more time from the Americans that “Buddhism is not really a religion but a philosophy,” I believe my samurai ancestors would have risen up from the dead and run them through with the point of a katana sword. The Americans seemed to believe, as I had experienced with Mr. Symes, that praying for material benefits and receiving them somehow proved that our religion “worked.”
What’s perhaps the most striking about this novel is the sympathy for Seido. His character is memorable, almost to the point that he jumps out of the page and walks around, trying to understand how people could live the way that they do.
Morais has struck gold with this novel, which is simultaneously funny, sad, and enlightening. Even without fully understanding Buddhism, any reader can sense the meaning it holds in Seido’s life, and the overwhelming confusion he faces when he is flown out of Buddhaland and into Brooklyn.
Buddhaland Brooklyn is as fish-out-of-water as they come, and brilliantly so. The entire story is told from Seido’s perspective, which only heightens the disjointedness between his personal