Sunday, September 07, 2008

Review with regret

I have seen Random Distractions described as a 'bookish blog', which is not the same as a 'book blog'. I do write the occasional review and frequently comment on what I have been reading but I have a wide range of interests and distractions to keep me busy and I like to share them with whoever chances to call by.

In spite of that, I get a great many emails every day with offers of books to review. I delete most of them but occasionally one will interest me and then I respond and post a review here. This description of The
Dharma King grabbed my attention:

The timely story guides the reader to examine the competing interests of capitalism and spirituality, China's emergence onto the world stage, Tibet's future and the personal struggle to find meaning in a changed world, says B.G. Stroh, while
raising individuals' spiritual awareness.

"The inescapable tragedy of the current Tibetan situation drew me to the struggles of the Panchen Lama,"explains Stroh, who has traveled throughout Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, and studied Tibetan Buddhism. "The novel ties together one man's personal quest with responsibility for something greater in the world in a fascinating story."

I replied to the invitation and received this handsome volume with a charming letter from author B.G.Stroh. The proceeds of the book sales are to be donated to Sera Jhe monastery in Tibet. I was really looking forward to reading it and recommending it to my friends.

I regret to say that the book isn't at all what I expected. The first chapter describes the after-effects of the central character's graduation party. I think we all know what a hangover looks like without the minute detail of 'clenched abdominals' and 'bile-based vomit'. I'll spare you the description of the contents of the black porcelain toilet.

I paused and pondered. Perhaps this was the writer's way of showing the depth of degradation that Sam was starting from on his spiritual journey. It could only get better. The eight pages of chapters 2 and 3 were indeed better because Sam slept through most of them. Then I reached chapter 4. I will not quote from it because there isn't a sentence I would care to display on my blog. I don't know what language is acceptable in polite society in the US these days but I don't think it is this. The book should carry a warning that it contains strong and offensive language.

I regret that I cannot finish reading The Dharma King. I regret that I cannot recommend it to my friends. I regret that I responded to the invitation to review it. Sorry, Mr Stroh.


  1. I agree with you about the language in our books. I find myself sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs in Barnes and Noble, book in hand, reading through it to make sure there is nothing offensive in it. I really see no need for harsh language when a precisely placed ordinary word can evoke the same emotion and drive the point home, with no one being offended.
    On occasion, such references will slip by me and when I do discover them, after purchasing the book, I am gravely disappointed. Such is the case with The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. I went through and edited out the ridiculous use of the f-word and replaced it with something much milder. Then I went back and reread the book. Much more enjoyable.
    Thank you for coming by to visit my blog. It gives me a chance to discover new blogs for myself to enjoy. Yours is a treasure.
    I'll be back often. Oh, and to answer your question, yes. :)

  2. Welcome, madrekarin. I have added your blog to my favourites on the side bar.

    I was particularly upset by the language in this book because the author claims to have studied Buddhism; he obviously missed the precept of 'right speech'.

  3. Sounds as if it is as far removed from the essence of Buddhism as can be imagined, M. Reminds me of the meditation classes I attended years ago in London. We would spend an hour or so learning about and then practising a different meditation and, individually, we would take ourselves into that quiet and inner space that meditation offers.

    But after meditation, there would be a discussion on a relevant aspect of Buddhism. Many of the men in the group would tell stories of bad behaviour - usually drug or alcohol fuelled - on the road to (or from) somewhere or other, until the day they saw the light. The women would, for the most part, sit quietly and raise their eyes in that 'here we go again' manner. And then ask if there were any plans to set up a women's meditation group . . .

  4. I think they have marketed this book in the wrong way, D. It is an adventure book about a search for the Punchen Lama. There nothing at all spiritual about it.

  5. I actually liked this book, so it's unfortunate that you quit reading. I think the author was using a literary device to contrast characters and societies, particularly important in the early portion of the book to set the allegorical scene to the world that Siddartha was raised within. I'd recommend finishing it, but at least you can appreciate the purpose of the plot development and foul language.

  6. BG Stroh's THE DHARMA KING marks an impressive writing debut. In a brief 187 pages Stroh manages to share a significant amount of Tibetan and Chinese history, provide insights into the Buddhism realm of spirituality, cross reference American capitalism with the morphing Chinese economic structure, and introduce characters at risk in an intense thriller as they become involved in the continuation of the Dalai Lama line - characters who in many ways mirror the development of the Siddhartha to Buddha transformation. This may sound like too much story for a short novel, but in Stroh's talented hands the pieces of this complex puzzle fit together so well that his brevity of style suggests a major talent emerging.

    Samuel Falk Simms, Jr. has just completed studies at Princeton and seems on his way to following the wealthy family business until he announces to his family that he will instead pursue his master's degree in East Asian Art. As a graduation trip, and after a night of heavy imbibing, Sam is off to Tibet to soak up the atmosphere and history. Literally unconscious on the airplane trip to Tibet he is seated beside a Tibetan monk, a gentle soul with whom he has little discourse until he awakens as the plane is landing. Little does he know that the monk has slipped a secret map of the whereabouts of the baby Panchen Lama who is being secreted by the Buddhists to avoid the infant's abduction by the Chinese police, led by the evil Colonel Zhang, in an attempt to further strangle the separatist Tibet from complete Chinese control. Along the way Sam is followed by secret agents, captured, tortured for something he is not even sure he has - the map in his luggage he sees only briefly - only to have it stolen by the police. Sam meets Parker, a beautiful and very intelligent woman with an abusive past, who not only aids Sam in his quest to find the infant Panchen Lama but also provides him with the love he has not known. Through a series of near death experiences Sam finally accepts the fact that he must act on his own and follow his destiny to return the infant to the safety of the Dalai Lama now dwelling in India. Concurrent with Sam's journey is the parallel business venture of his father's firm with China and it is this back and forth progress and regress between Sam's spiritual growth and his father's financial greed that heightens the tension of this well wrought story.

    Stroh has researched his book well and on many pages there are eloquently written passages that solidly introduce the complexities of spiritual differences between the East and the West, and an excellent and informative explanation of the plight of Tibet in modern times. The characters are all well defined and enter the reader's psyche as fully developed people about whom we care deeply - or loathe! This is a personal spiritual journey of one man who moves from the comfort of home to the danger and sacrifice of Tibet and beyond. It is a journey with which we can all connect. ‘…there is no weapon more powerful than courage and hope forged together.’ Highly recommended. Grady Harp, September 08

  7. puchanlit, thank you for your comment. I did consider following madrekin's tip and blotting out the offensive language before reading the rest of the book. Then I wondered if it would be worth the effort.

    My mother held the view that use of foul language showed a lack of imagination and I think she would be horrified today to find that some writers use one four-letter word to represent surprise, shock, horror, threat, anger, dismay, excitement and whole lot more. Not very imaginative, are they?

  8. grady, I welcome your comment even though it appears more like a copied and pasted book review.

  9. I respect your opinion, but you are missing out on a great book.

    If you limit yourself to books that exclude four-letter words you are leaving out an enormous portion of literary achievements - but that is certainly your right.

    Happy reading and writing to you.


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