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Buddha Da [Paperback]

Anne Donovan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 1951
Anne Marie's dad, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, has always been game for a laugh. So when he first takes up meditation at the Buddhist Center, no one takes him seriously. But as Jimmy becomes more involved in a search for the spiritual, his beliefs start to come into conflict with the needs of his wife, Liz. Cracks appear in their apparently happy family life, and the ensuing events change the lives of each family member. Donovan completely captures these lives in her clear-eyed, evocative prose, rendered alternately in the voices of each of the main characters. With seamless grace and astonishing veracity, Buddha Da treats serious themes with humor and its characters with humanity. From prize-winning writer Anne Donovan, this stunning debut novel shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award will appeal to readers of Roddy Doyle.

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From Publishers Weekly

Novels from current Scottish authors are assumed not only to be full of the kind of dialect that on screen would require subtitles, but also fraught with edgy violence, rage and angst. Donovan's delightful debut domestic comedy has the dialect all right (though it's very easy to follow after the first few pages) and a few darker undertones, but is essentially sunny and engaging. Jimmy is a Glasgow house painter, a genial giant of a man who seems happy in his marriage to Liz and in his musical teenage daughter, Anne Marie. But he yearns for something beyond the quotidian and finds it in the local Buddhist center, where he is soon spending much too much of his time, in the view of his wife and daughter, learning to meditate and hanging out with the "lamas." Soon he is separated from his family, while Anne Marie becomes involved with a Pakistani school friend in an all-absorbing music contest, and Liz falls into a flirtation that leads to a family crisis. Donovan's sense of the intimacies and pleasures of these small lives is acute; her ear for their talk, alternately tough and tender, is sharp; and she manages to make her little family at once likable and intensely vulnerable. American readers may be astonished to find how much, especially in terms of popular culture, they have in common with contemporary Glaswegians.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Conflicting needs, desires, and explanations threaten to tear a seemingly ordinary Scottish family apart in this pitch-perfect debut novel from an exiting new voice. Jimmy, a hardworking, fun-loving family man, catches his wife and adolescent daughter off guard when he begins meditating at the Buddhist Centre instead of hoisting a few with his pals down at the local pub in his working-class Glasgow neighborhood. Unable to fathom her husband's sudden quest for spiritual enlightenment, Liz not only struggles with her elderly mother's failing health but her own intense longing for another child. Poised on the threshold of young womanhood, 13-year-old Anne Marie is caught between her parents as she attempts to forge her own identity in secondary school. Alternately narrated in the voices of the three main characters, this humorous, compassionate, and insightful tribute to the ties that bind will delight readers undaunted by the authentic Scottish dialect in which it is written. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Reading April 25 2004
Format:Paperback
Its seldom that a book comes into my world that is different in almost every conceivable way from anything you have read before. Buddha Da maybe be one of the most unique works of fiction that I have ever worked my way through.
Basically the book is a mere snippet in the lives of a Scottish Family. The father becomes immersed in Buddhism and changes to the extent where his marriage breaks down. Not the happiest outcome in the world but the storyline is not the strength of this book. The entire thing is written in a series of monlogues, each character expressing how they are feeling about things and discussing the latest events. Rather than Donovan trying to explain to you how her creations are feeling she allows them to do it directly to you - amost as if they are each working on personal diaries and you are diary they are writing on. This angle allows you to get really quite deeply into the characters and makes you feel like much more of a fly on the wall than is typical.
The barrier to many Americans reading this book however is going to be the language the monologues are in. They are written 'with accent' and much of it is phonetic.
"At the coffee break the wumman came ower and sat beside me. She wis tall wi her hair cut dead short and she'd these big dangly earings jinglin fae her lugs. It wis hard tae work oot whit age she wis; could have been anythin far thirty-five tae forty-five. She wis dressed in black wi a flowery-patterned shawl thing flung ower her shooders."
What folk need to understand is that familiarity to a Glaswegian accent is something that is common to almost all people in the world and is as foreign to an Englishman living in London as it is to a resident of San Deigo.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Reading April 25 2004
By James A Starritt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Its seldom that a book comes into my world that is different in almost every conceivable way from anything you have read before. Buddha Da maybe be one of the most unique works of fiction that I have ever worked my way through.
Basically the book is a mere snippet in the lives of a Scottish Family. The father becomes immersed in Buddhism and changes to the extent where his marriage breaks down. Not the happiest outcome in the world but the storyline is not the strength of this book. The entire thing is written in a series of monlogues, each character expressing how they are feeling about things and discussing the latest events. Rather than Donovan trying to explain to you how her creations are feeling she allows them to do it directly to you - amost as if they are each working on personal diaries and you are diary they are writing on. This angle allows you to get really quite deeply into the characters and makes you feel like much more of a fly on the wall than is typical.
The barrier to many Americans reading this book however is going to be the language the monologues are in. They are written 'with accent' and much of it is phonetic.
"At the coffee break the wumman came ower and sat beside me. She wis tall wi her hair cut dead short and she'd these big dangly earings jinglin fae her lugs. It wis hard tae work oot whit age she wis; could have been anythin far thirty-five tae forty-five. She wis dressed in black wi a flowery-patterned shawl thing flung ower her shooders."
What folk need to understand is that familiarity to a Glaswegian accent is something that is common to almost all people in the world and is as foreign to an Englishman living in London as it is to a resident of San Deigo. A little effort is required to read the first few chapers but after a while you forget about the lack of real words and instead literally hear your characters - Donovan by forcing you to acknowledge the accent brings her characters to life.
Its a good enough book to give it a shot at any rate. Is this a rave review? Nope. Frankly I thought that Anne Donovan did a fine job with the adults in the book but the character of the daughter was something unreal. It was like Donovan has been an adult to long to set herself inside the mind of a child and I thought the character and the things she achieves are just a little boring and lifeless. Fortunatly she isnt in the book often enough to spoil it completely however I'm not sure she really needed to be in there at all - a couple of years older and she may have been a more interesting subject to deal with but alas ...
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly Simple, Profoundly Moving Oct. 18 2004
By Wendy Kaplan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
OK. First of all, understand that this book is written entirely in phoenetically spelled Glaswegian dialect. And for the first few chapters, it can stand in the way. And then you get the rhythm. And then it doesn't matter. And you have achieved what the quirky main character in this book, a Glasgow house painter named Jimmy, is trying so hard to achieve--simplicity and clarity.

The charming and very quirky story revolves around a working-class family in Glasgow, Scotland. The dad (or "da," as they say), Jimmy, owns the house-painting business with his brother John. His wife, Liz, his sweetheart since she was 14, is a secretary. Their only daughter, Anne-Marie, is herself 14, and simply loveable--the most centered character in the book.

Sensing some sort of inner turmoil, Jimmy is drawn to the local Buddhist center (we are talking about a working class beer drinking simple soul whose previous idea of humor was to moon for the video camera) and finds a sense of self he never had before. As he earnestly seeks to immerse himself in this new way of being, he becomes increasingly neglectful of his family--up to and including declaring to Liz that he must be celibate from now on! The story is told first person from alternating points of view, and the reader is sympathetic to all of them (at least I was).

The disarming simplicity of the tale, and the work it takes to overcome the dialect, mirrors Jimmy's immersion into Buddhism, and is simply brilliant. This is a completely different kind of book, and well worth reading. I loved it and recommend it with the caveat that it is a book that takes some work.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compassionate and compelling May 30 2005
By Sean Hoade - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
At first, I was afraid of the Scottish dialect in which this is written, but after three pages it failed to register any longer except as how these characters talked and thought. Don't miss this book because of the dialect -- I almost did and I would have greatly regretted it.

Buddha Da weaves together the story of three members of a family -- Da, Ma, and Anne Marie, their daughter -- and does it seamlessly into a story of fallout, faith, hunger, and redemption. It is just about a flawless book, flawlessly told. I don't know the last time I found a book as dramatically pleasing and logically coherent and consistent as Buddha Da. It is a masterpiece I will recommend to everyone interested in Buddhism, family life, or just good fiction. I look forward to the author's next book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful novel Jan. 28 2006
By Tokoloshi - Published on Amazon.com
I like this novel so much that I'm going to use it as a set book in a college class. It's original, touching and funny--full of the compassion and insight that its main character, Jimmy, seeks. After a few paragraphs I settled into the Glaswegian dialect easily. It's hard for a teacher to find a well written novel that isn't depressing. This is the only one on my short list (Brian Moore's Feast of Lupercal and Keneally's Passenger were others, but Donovan gives the reader at least as much as either of these and is in print).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nae classic Hen! Feb. 14 2013
By Saucier - Published on Amazon.com
One of my main criticisms when I am reading and reviewing books is that sometimes I struggle with a particular vernacular. If it is written with a heavy Southern or Negro vernacular then I find it hard to get into the story and I am often tempted to give up as I am not enjoying the book. See my review on Go Tell it on the mountain by James Baldwin if you need an example.

So, it was with this in mind that I chose this book as this months read for one of my book groups. I wanted the others to get some sort of understanding of what I mean when I say I struggle with certain American dialects.

Written entirely in my birth dialect of Glaswegian it does take a couple of chapters, even for me to get into the rhythm of this book. It must have been an extremely hard book to write doing so entirely in Glaswegian without even any descriptive paragraphs in plain English. I am quite impressed with the authors ability to do this as it would have been quite easy to just keep the conversations in Glaswegian while putting descriptive paragraphs in simpler terms.

The story itself is not a classic but it does have some depth and meaning below the surface, although some of that may be lost with people struggling to understand the language. I felt quite sad for the characters in the end. Although there was an element of happiness, I just thought that they would never be quite the same again and that there would always be a sadness in their minds for various reasons (trying not to give away a spoiler).

One criticism is that, despite the title, I thought it did not go into Buddhism enough or indeed Jimmy's journey in and out of it. I felt that the whole side story with Anne Marie and Nisha and the CD was unnecessary and I would have liked more about Jimmy himself. I know that the point of the whole Anne Marie story, was probably to show how for a 12 year old, life just goes on no matter what is happening with her parents and that she is, blissfully, unaware of all the drama that Jimmy and Liz is going through. Credit to her parents for shielding her from it all though.

A good read to help me prove a point to my book group and one that does make one think but it is no classic or must read for everyone. 4 out of 5.

To end I want to write out a Scottish toast that you should give before eating or drinking:

Here's Tae Us; Wha's Like Us?.....
....Damn Few
and they're a' deid!
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