Jan Willis meets Anne Lamott in this funny, observant memoir by Adiele, an English professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Burned out by the pressure of undergraduate studies at Harvard, Adiele took a year off to get her head together and do field research in Thailand, where she had once spent time as a Rotary exchange student. She became fascinated with Buddhist nuns and began soliciting their stories, a process that led to her rather impulsive decision to seek "temporary ordination" as a nun herself. The nominal-Unitarian-turned-Buddhist is humble about her spiritual insights: "Where I should be über-nun, I'm not even what is perceived as a practicing Buddhist. I don't meditate regularly; I nurse anger; I despise tofu. Dammit, I don't appear to have learned anything! So how can anyone learn from me?" But readers can and will learn from Adiele, who parses out her second stay in Thailand with a comic's timing, a novelist's keen observations about human idiosyncrasies and an anthropologist's sensitivity to issues of race and culture. Her main narrative is almost talmudically surrounded by commentary: all along the outer margins of the book, quotes from Buddhist luminaries mingle with excerpts from her own very raw journals from that year. As she admits her fear of the rats that infested her meditation cave or chronicles her pride in gradually increasing her meditation hours, we are privileged to see an unvarnished vulnerability.
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By her own reckoning, Adiele is an unlikely candidate for Buddhist spiritual enlightenment. Neither Asian nor disciplined, she doesn't fancy meditation; despises tofu; and, raised Unitarian, isn't particularly religious. Yet the Nigerian-Scandinavian ex-Harvard student from eastern Washington became the first black Buddhist nun in northern Thailand. She first went to Thailand at age 15, after winning a Rotary Club International Exchange Program scholarship at a time when most Americans could barely find Thailand on the map. Although used to being different--she wryly notes that, every day, she was an exchange student in her own country--she wasn't prepared for life in a tiny rural Thai community, in which she was the first black anyone had seen. But something about the country and Buddhism appealed to her and she chose to return, though she was as surprised as anyone else when she decided to become a Buddhist nun. A warm, witty account of an unusual woman's spiritual journey and search for identity between the vastly different cultures of East and West. June Sawyers
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As I also grew up in a small town in the Northwest, find Buddhism intriguing and challenging, and detest creepy crawlies, I was captivated by this memoir. Ms. Read morePublished on July 18 2004 by Ross A. Bunnell
I learned so much from this book--not only about the Buddhist traditions of Thailand and the forest temple where Ms. Read morePublished on June 15 2004