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Lions Roar : January 2005
82 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 contrast with the current crop of dharma- inspired stories, and shows how Buddhist fiction in the West has evolved. In 2000, Shambhala Publications released a beau- tiful new translation of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, and now this year, the Modern Library has reissued Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, perhaps the West’s first Buddhist novel, with a thoughtful introduction by writer Pankaj Mishra. Although they tell very different tales, both Kim and Siddhartha have much in common. Both are set in India, involving primarily Indian characters, and like Buddha Da, both try to explain Buddhist principles to an audience assumed to be unfamiliar with them. But although these early nov- els are sympathetic to Buddhism, they present it as an exotic, foreign faith, prac- ticed by strange people in strange lands. As Buddha Da progresses, the empha- sis shifts from Jimmy’s discover y of Buddhism to the deterioration of his relationship with Liz. This is a more ordi- nary story, and makes the second half of the novel somewhat less engaging than the first. Some promising plotlines, such as Jimmy’s friendship with Barbara, remain underdeveloped, while others, like Liz’s relationship with a university student, are wrapped up a bit too neatly in the end. Still, Donovan paints the characters of Buddha Da with such care and empathy that the novel is difficult to put down and very hard not to like. In the end, Buddha Da asks whether Buddhist practice can coexist with family life. Some would argue that the Buddha didn’t think so, and some schools contin- ue to elevate celibate monasticism above all other forms. Yet many Buddhists in the West are betting that the two can be compatible, complementary even, and take refuge in a householder practice. Buddha Da provides no easy answers, but Donovan gives us a fascinating and touching glimpse into one family’s strug- gle with the question. A century after Kim, Buddha Da is a welcome addition to our Buddhist fiction renaissance. © DAN ZIGMOND is a writer, software engi- neer and Zen priest living in California.