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Shambhala Sun | January 2011
You'll find these reviews on page 83 of the magazine.

Books in Brief

Reviewed by Andrea Miller.


The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography
By Tetsu Saiwai
Penguin, 2010; 208 pp., $15 (paper)

My Spiritual Journey
By the Dalai Lama, with Sofia Stril-Rever
HarperOne, 2010; 304 pp., $25.99 (cloth)

A native of Japan with more than twenty years under his belt as a manga artist, Tetsu Saiwai specializes in creating mangas related to environmental protection and human rights issues. His manga The 14th Dalai Lama, which tells the story of His Holiness’ childhood and youth, is especially moving. Indeed, it took me by surprise that what is essentially a comic strip could make me feel so keenly the sorrows and pressures that the young Dalai Lama faced, weighted down with political and spiritual responsibility for a people under attack. My Spiritual Journey presents the Dalai Lama’s story in his own words. Troubling memories are found on these pages, but so are delightful ones. This anecdote from his childhood makes me laugh: traditionally in the Dalai Lama’s kitchen, no pork, eggs, or fish were cooked. But when visiting his family, he would sit next to his pork-loving father, “almost like a little dog waiting for his tidbit… It was a little illegal!”

Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren: Finding Calm in the Chaos of the School Years
By Sarah Napthali
Allen & Unwin, 2010; 258 pp., $15.95 (paper)

According to author Sarah Napthali, the early school years are, for many people, “the golden years of parenting, the hard-earned window between demanding toddlerhood and unpredictable adolescence.” Nonetheless, difficulties abound for mothers, including stress from deadlines and boredom with routines, as well as the challenge of managing their fears and expectations for their children and fitting in with other parents. But Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren is not a book telling women how to parent. Most of the chapters focus on helping mothers recognize and address their own needs, so that they can bring their best to the task of mothering. Napthali, also the author of the best-seller Buddhism for Mothers, draws on teachings from all three main traditions: Zen, Tibetan, and Theravadan. This, she says, will allow mothers new to Buddhism to decide which school most attracts them.

The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life
By Kurt Hoelting
Da Capo Press, 2010; 262 pp., $25.00 (cloth)

When Kurt Hoelting took a carbon footprint survey, he was appalled to learn that his footprint was twice the national average, despite his hybrid vehicle and attempts to limit his personal use of energy. “Since the average North American carbon footprint is ten times the world average,” he explains, “this was an alarming discovery. For someone who prides himself on living low on the energy food chain, this was not something I could take sitting down.” Hoelting, a commercial fisherman, wilderness guide, and meditation teacher, gave up his car and cancelled his plane reservations, vowing to travel exclusively under his own steam for one year. The Circumference of Home chronicles Hoelting’s discoveries as he kayaked, biked, and walked within hundred kilometers of his home in Puget Sound.

I Hotel
By Karen Tei Yamashita
Coffee House Press, 2010; 640 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Falling to Heaven
Jeanne M. Peterson
Thomas Dunne Books, 2010; 336 pp., $24.99 (cloth)

“Novel” is too simplistic a label for the ambitious I Hotel. More accurately, it is ten linked novellas—one for each year from 1968 to 1977—and it is braided through with playwriting, philosophizing, graphic art, and a host of colorful, revolutionary characters. The setting is San Francisco’s Chinatown and the focus is on the Asian American movement. Keep your eyes peeled for when, in the ninth novella, one character paraphrases Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas on love and life. In the novel Falling to Heaven, the year is 1954 and an American Quaker couple—Emma and Gerald—take up residence in the Tibetan city of Shigaste. The couple make friends with their neighbors and dive into Tibetan culture—brewing yak butter tea and exploring meditation. But when the Chinese Communists invade, Gerald is taken prisoner and the pregnant Emma must fight governmental stonewalling to get her husband released. Jeanne Peterson, the author of Falling to Heaven, is a psychologist who worked for many years with survivors of torture and Communist reeducation.

Deep Down Things: The Earth in Celebration and Dismay
By Lin Jensen
Wisdom, 2010; 176 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Lin Jensen is a Zen teacher, a frequent contributor to Shambhala Sun, and the author of Together Under One Roof and Bad Dog! In his latest release, Deep Down Things, he offers a series of personal essays dealing by turns with deep ecology and our deepest nature. In concrete terms, this means he touches on everything from earthworms to cooking vegetables to breaking down the barriers between self and other. Jensen’s writing is heartfelt. When I finish reading one of his essays, I feel as warm and fuzzy as if I’ve just watched a simple feel-good movie. But make no mistake—the lessons Jensen is teaching are profound.

Essentials of Tibetan Traditional Medicine
Thinley Gyatso and Chris Hakim
North Atlantic Books, 2010; 395 pp., $24.95 (cloth)

The Four Tantras is considered the fundamental treatise on Tibetan medicine, yet more than half of the chapters have never been translated into English. Fortunately, Essentials of Tibetan Traditional Medicine now offers a distillation of the text, in English, using non-academic language. The book starts by unpacking the basics of Tibetan medical theory and methods of diagnosis, then addresses the humors, their corresponding illnesses, and the possible treatments. Lastly, the book dives into therapeutics, such as diet and lifestyle, bloodletting, and materia medica—mostly herbs but also ingredients of animal and mineral origin. Each ingredient has its own page, which includes its Tibetan, common, and botanical names; clinical uses; known pharmacological properties; and a drawing. I appreciate that while many of the ingredients are—to my mind—exotic, others are things I have in my own kitchen: cumin and garlic, ginger and pomegranate.

An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry
Edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam
University of Arkansas Press, 2010; 257 pp., $24.95 (paper)

An Anthology of Fungi Inspired Poems
Edited by Renée Roehl and Kelly Chadwick
Lost Horse Press, 2010; 128 pp., $18 (paper)

Indivisible features the works of American poets with roots in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. “Both South Asian and South Asian American fiction are currently enjoying great popularity in the United States,” say the editors, “yet commercial success may come at a price: a closer look reveals that few of these best-sellers stray beyond the borders of magical realism and extended family narrative.” In contrast, poetry, a less commercial venture, allows “Desi” writers to explore an infinite and surprising range of styles and themes. One of my favorite poems in Indivisible is Minal Hajratwala’s “Angerfish,” which borrows from the Dhammapada. Decomposition offers a smorgasbord of mushroom poems by such luminaries as Mary Oliver, Robert Hass, and Gary Snyder. Why mushrooms? According to the editors, “In a world obsessed with sterility, false appearances, and a religious avoidance of death, decomposers can be seen as villainous, though in truth, all life depends on them.” The forward is by poet and Zen practitioner Jane Hirshfield.

As seen in the January 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun.

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