08 October 2011

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan

Thoughts and Reflections
I had been waiting to read this book for sometime, without ever really knowing what it was all about or even what the title meant. So, having no expectations whatsoever, I dove in.

The first thing that hit me was that the book was written in a Scottish accent, a feature which was pulled off wonderfully and that I deeply appreciated. It perhaps took a bit of extra concentration to read, but I don't feel that it took away from the book whatsoever. In fact, I believe this feature contributed to the setting and the development and understanding of Jimmy. I think writing in an accent can be exceptionally difficult. I wondered at times if it would be difficult for some to understand at times. However, as I continued to read and understand, I felt this was no a problem.

As the plot and characters developed, I began to appreciate the split narrative. Each of the three main characters, Liz, Anne Marie, and Jimmy, take turns in narrating the story line. Liz and Jimmy are the parents of twelve year old Anne Marie when Jimmy becomes a Buddhist. Liz and Anne Marie go from a general indifference, to confusion, to misunderstanding and feelings of betrayal in response to his new religion. Gradually, the story turns from Jimmy's learning about Buddhism to how his Buddhism affects the family. Hearing the thoughts, emotions, and actions from each character gave a well rounded picture of what was actually going on. The reader was able to intimately understand the characters and how they were feeling, their motivations, and thoughts. Split narratives can also be tricky to pull off, but in this particular case, the narrative was a key aspect in developing the plot, characters, and setting.

At first as I was reading, I though the book was going to be about religious tolerance, of overcoming the confusion of a non-traditional way of doing things. However, this aspect wasn't discussed at all. Rather, the main theme of the novel was to do with each character doing what they felt was best. Jimmy begins to explore Buddhism as a means of understanding life better and living life in a deeper and more meaningful way. However, his actions have some negative repercussions. There are a few other instances in which what might be best might right, but it might also have some very negative consequences. Most of the time in life, we can never really know the effects of our actions, especially not in the future. At one point, Liz is quoted saying, "Wish there was some way of knowing if we're daein the right hing, but there isnae. Never is." I believe this line captures the main theme of the book very precisely.

I also wondered how necessary it was for the plot to involve Buddhism. I wondered if some spat between Jimmy and Liz could have resulted in the same feelings of isolation and growing apart. However, in relation to the main theme of trying to do what is best and never really know what is best or right or what the consequences might be, the involvement of Buddhism suddenly makes sense.

I very much enjoyed the characters. The book focused on events in the characters lives that weren't directly related to anything else. They were each leading their own life, whilst being tied together through shared events (not surprising for a family). However, the fact that the book focused on the life of the characters independent from the other characters emphasised their individuality. The reader was able to get to know each character quite well as a result.

I enjoyed the character of Jimmy very much. He seems like the last possible individual on earth to become involved in Buddhism. A non-religious Glaswegian, a painter, a pub going, football watching male. The author was successful in introducing him to Buddhism. He seems an unlikely Buddhist, but the author pulls it off and Jimmy's Buddhism is convincing.

I found the ending fairly sappy. Up until the ending, the book honestly explores the thoughts and feeling of the characters and the effects of Jimmy's Buddhism. However, at the end, all seems forgotten and forgiven with a few convenient exits. The ending might have been more convincing has the author taken a bit more time to bring the characters to reconciliation and reunion. As it is, though, I found it rushed, overly convenient, and sappy.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I thought it might explore some concepts of Buddhism more deeply. However, I appreciated the discussion of the effects of a Buddhist family member on a non-Buddhist family. I also appreciated the discussion of Buddhism in the west. Reading in a Scottish accent was most certainly a treat. So, overall, a good read, gentle, but with some deeper themes and topics.

About the Author
Anne Donovan was born in Coatbridge, Scotland. She attended Glasgow University, receiving a degree in English and Philosophy. After graduating, she began to teach English. She taught until 2003, when she published Buddha Da, her debut novel (she had published a book of short stories previously, Hieroglyphics and Other Stories). At this point, Anne transitioned to full-time writing. Buddha Da was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Scottish Book of the Year Award among other prizes and awards. She currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Things I Liked About This Novel:
1. I liked that it was written with 3 different narrators, Liz, Anne Marie, and Jimmy. In my opinion, this helped the reader understand the impact of things on each character intimately.

2. I liked the contrast between a typical Glaswegian and Buddhist.I thought the book was very honest as it explored Buddhism in a place such as Scotland.

3. I liked that the book was written in a Scottish accent.

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