Book: The Heart of the Buddha by Elsie Sze (Released October 1, 2009)
When I was younger I wanted very much to go to Bhutan. I bought a detailed travel book about trekking in Bhutan that included information about the country’s people and history. I never got there and now I am settling in to a different kind of travel, and can only go to these more challenging locations vicariously.
WHAT I LIKED
For that reason, when the publicist sent me a copy, I read The Heart of the Buddha, a novel/travel book, with appreciation for the details of daily life, descriptions of the cities, and particularly information about Tantric Buddhism. I appreciated the glossary that allows the author to use the proper Bhutanese words in the narrative and allows me to check the meaning as I read along.
THE PLOT OF THE BOOK
Briefly, a young woman has gone to Bhutan as a librarian, and when she goes missing, her twin sister goes to search for her. Along the way, the first young woman falls in love with a Buddhist monk, they steal into Tibet to obtain a sacred book that belongs to Bhutan, and the sister, following their trail, falls in love with her Bhutanese guide.
WHAT DID NOT WORK
As a novel, The Heart of the Buddha fails to hold my attention.While the plot line has potential, the exposition comes in sodden lumps rather than being scattered seamlessly within dialogue and story. We constantly get almost apologetic explanations of why some particular action is possible: something like, “Since he studied the Tibetan language in school, he could pass as a citizen of the country.”
Although at times, the language mimics the hot panting (or is that hot pants?) of a romance novel, it also tries to be a story of suspense.
Cliff hanger questions are stated boldly and relentlessly. “What did he look like? Would he answer to Marian’s description of him? And the question that worried me most–where was Marian?” Trust the reader. We kinda know what she is thinking about since she went all the way to Bhutan to find her sister.
The worst thing about the book, though, is the violation of the most sacred principle of story telling–show, don’t tell. Part of the story is told through a written memoir and most of the rest, is related in conversations. The memoir also contains long passages of dialogue so that there is no difference in style between the supposed memoir and the novel itself.
In the near future, I will be writing about Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Guilliland. I am currently reading this book that serves as a model of how a writer can be a careful researcher, include the tiniest details of daily life plus a broad overview, and still make the writing sparkle. Unfortunately, Ms. Sze is not at that point.
Both photos in this post are courtesy of Bob and Clare Rogers, all rights reserved. Bob and Clare are currently on a bicycle trip across China, Tibet, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Click on the picture to follow their adventure.
IMPORTANT QUESTION FOR MY READERS: How do you feel about my writing about books I do not recommend? Would you rather that I only tell you about recommended books, or do you want the bad apples as well? I am particularly interested in your reply because I currently have on my coffee table a book about a very interesting place that I simply cannot slog through–despite the fact that it has been recommended by lots of people in high places. (The authors have a lot of friends.) So do you think I should discuss books like that, too?