Browsing around looking for material to use in my post on Liza Dalby's books I noticed that she had published a new one in 2009. This time a novel. Of course I had to read it immediately and finished it in a few nights - a rare phenomenon right now; as a working mom I have only a few hours before dawn to spend on reading...
"Hidden Buddhas" is a modern detective story that crosses the borders of time, culture and continents. At the same time it is a very touching romance embedded in a tale on Buddhism in Japan. We encounter buddhist monks with a faible for culinary delights, an American student on pilgrimage in and a maverick professor breeding honeybees. The book with many turns is absorbing from the beginning to the end, full of bizarre events in disparate environments such as Japan, France and the US, which give us a different insight in what is familiar and what is exotic. A young American student experiences the attraction of an esoteric Japanese tradition and a buddhist funeral ritual is performed in a catholic family - nothing is impossible in a world where love and enthusiasm transcend every border.
From a literary point of view the novel has maybe a few weak points; the author seems more comfortable with the charakters that cross the borders of traditions and culture than with the "pure" Japanese ones. The story of Mayumi remains somehow a draft, even though the whole novel culminates in her - a little bit too hasty for me. But maybe this will be the next book!
Nevertheless "Hidden Buddhas" was probably the novel I enjoyed most this year. As I already mentioned I adore all the other books of Liza Dalby and I admire her capability to integrate her deep knowledge of Japanese culture in her fictional and essayistic prose. The spiritual dimension of Japanese Buddhism was completely new to me, but I was also happy to recognize elements from her former books in digressions on Kimono fabrics or the ancient Chinese almanachs.
A wonderful book for rainy days and sleepless nights!