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Lions Roar : September 2014
BY ANDREA MILLER Books in Brief TIBETAN PEACH PIE A True Account of an Imaginative Life By Tom Robbins Ecco 2014; 384 pp., $27.99 (cloth) As the celebrated author of the novels Skinny Legs and All and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins is known for his extravagant, humorous metaphors and for juxtaposing the absurd and the lyrical, the sacred and the profane. But these are not just tricks he saves for his fiction. Tibetan Peach Pie, Rob- bins’s meandering life story, delivers the same punchy style. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Now Showing: Satori,” in which Robbins recounts a fleeting but powerful experience of sudden enlightenment. It was in 1966 when he was driving through a blizzard. He could see virtually nothing except swirling snow- flakes and then suddenly he caught sight of a huge painted golf ball outlined in white neon, announcing the presence of a driv- ing range. For some reason that glowing white circle made him, for the next twelve seconds or so, “a free spirit in the oneness of the whole enchilada, seeing the world—material and immate- rial—for the all-inclusive miracle it is.” Of course, he continues, “I’m all too aware of how woo-woo this sounds, but it was as real as a stubbed toe and as lucid as a page in Hemingway.” IN PARADISE By Peter Matthiessen Riverhead Books 2014; 246 pp., $27.95 (cloth) Peter Matthiessen was the acclaimed author of The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country, as well as a Zen priest in the White Plum Asanga. In April, he passed away while awaiting the publication of In Paradise, his final novel. The inspiration for In Paradise was Matthiessen’s own experience at Roshi Bernie Glassman’s “bear- ing witness” meditation retreats in Auschwitz. The main charac- ter of the novel is Olin, a Polish-American historian who ambiv- alently joins a bearing witness retreat because he’s researching the suicide of a Holocaust survivor. Over time, however, he comes to realize that his motives for attending are both layered and deeply personal. In Paradise does not flinch in tackling pain- ful questions: What is at the root of our seemingly endless fasci- nation with the Holocaust? If we bear witness, what exactly are we bearing witness to? And what can a non-jew with no personal connection to the Holocaust contribute to the understanding of such a horrific legacy? NIGHT BOAT By Alan Spence Canongate 2014; 454 pp., $15.95 (paper) This is one of the most enduring stories about Hakuin Ekaku: There was a beautiful young woman who got pregnant and when her parents insisted she reveal the father, she named Hakuin. Irate, the parents showed up at his door with their accusations, yet all he said was, “Is that so?” After the birth, Hakuin accepted the baby and took good care of him, despite the fact that this cost him his reputation. A year passed and finally the young mother confessed to her parents that Hakuin wasn’t really the father but rather it was a man who worked at the fish market. Now, full of apologies, her parents returned to Hakuin’s door, claiming they knew the truth. “Is that so?” Hakuin said again and freely handed the child back. Today Hakuin is celebrated as the reviver of the Rinzai Zen tradition and is recognized as one of the most influ- ential Zen masters of all time. Night Boat is a superbly written novelization of his life. Alan Spence, an award-winning Scottish poet and playwright, is also the author of The Pure Land. LEONARD COHEN ON LEONARD COHEN Interviews and Encounters Edited by jeff Burger Chicago Review Press 2014; 604 pp., $29.95 (cloth) This hefty volume is a fascinating collection of more than fifty interviews with poet, singer, novelist, and longtime Buddhist practitioner leonard Cohen. Conducted between 1966 and 2012, these interviews delve into everything from Cohen’s loves and lyrics to his personal financial crisis. But Buddhist readers will be shambhala sun september 2014 75