Books in Brief
Reviewed by ANDREA MILLER.
Awake in the World
Teachings From Yoga and Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life
By Michael Stone
Shambhala Publications 2011; 208 pp., $17.95 (paper)
According to Michael Stone, the essence of yoga and Buddhist practice is opening the heart—our own and the heart of the world—and in his new book he explores this idea through a range of lenses, including money and livelihood, ecology, nature, activism, and even suicide. “We know we are all connected, but we forget,” says Stone. “We know mind and body are one, but we wake every morning with amnesia. This is why we practice. We use this practice as a tool to effect change internally and externally in this very imbalanced world.” A psychotherapist and the founder of the Centre of Gravity Sangha in Toronto, Stone teaches yoga and Buddhist meditation around the globe.
Across Many Mountains
A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey From Oppression to Freedom
By Yangzom Brauen
St. Martin’s Press 2011; 304 pp., $26.99 (cloth)
Through the story of one family, Across Many Mountains unpacks the Tibetan experience. Kunsang Wangmo, born almost a century ago, was a Buddhist nun who married a monk. After the Chinese invaded Tibet, Kunsang, her husband, and their two little girls made the dangerous trek through snow and darkness to freedom. But India offered its own set of challenges: hard labor breaking rocks, unsanitary conditions, and a lack of health care. The father and the younger daughter succumbed to illness; however, the mother and older daughter, Sonam Dölma, survived. When Sonam was sixteen, she landed a job at an upscale Tibetan restaurant in Mussoorie, India, and met Martin Brauen, a young man from Switzerland. They fell in love, got married, and moved to Zurich with Kunsang. Now the three of them live in New York, where Martin is the chief curator for the Rubin Museum of Art. Yangzom Brauen, Martin and Sonam’s daughter, lives in both Los Angeles and Berlin. Born in 1980, she is the author of Across Many Mountains, as well as an actor, model, and activist for the Free Tibet movement.
Never the Hope Itself
Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti
By Gerry Hadden
Harper Perennial 2011; 352 pp., $14.99 (paper)
Gerry Hadden, a student of the Tibetan teacher Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, was about to begin a three-year meditation retreat when he landed his dream job—NPR’s correspondent for Mexico, Latin America, and Haiti. Never the Hope Itself is the true, spine-chilling story of Hadden working his beat, covering contraband and deadly border crossings and bloody rebellion. It is also the story of Hadden making a life for himself in Mexico City. He has his Buddhist practice and at the same time he has a complicated, passionate romance with Anne, a married woman. Most curiously, he claims to have ghosts in his Mexican home, bursting open closet doors and levitating objects. You may or may not believe in his phantoms, but Hadden provides an eerie read.
Saved by Beauty
Adventures of an American Romantic in Iran
By Roger Housden
Broadway 2011; 304 pp., $24 (cloth)
“I came to write a book to show people in the West that Iran is not what they think,” Roger Housden told his Iranian interrogators. “I came to find the soul of Iran, the truth and beauty of its past and present.” The interrogators looked dubious. “Do you know what an Iranian jail is like?” one of them asked. Saved by Beauty is Housden’s nonfiction account of his travels. It is not a portrait of the romanticized Persia— lush with pomegranates and roses—that Housden had been hoping for, nor is it a portrait of the colorless, repressed Iran that so many Westerners fear. Instead, Saved by Beauty offers readers a more complex view, encompassing stereotypes and then going far beyond them. In its pages we meet Iranian Jews, female artists and intellectuals, and even an interrogator who quotes Rumi. Love is at the heart of this book in the same way that it is at the heart of Sufism, and Sufi poetry is a rich, lyrical thread that runs throughout.
One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
By Conor Grennan
William Morrow 2011; 304 pp., $25.99 (cloth)
For twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan, a volunteer stint at a Nepalese orphanage was supposed to be just stop No. 1 in a yearlong trip around the world. But then he got to know the children and their grim plight. Many of them were not orphans, after all, but victims rescued from human traffickers. Grennan knew he had to do something, and so he took it upon himself to reunite the boys and girls with their families—a move that put him in hairraising peril in corrupt, war-torn Nepal. Grennan’s spiritual journey ends with him adopting the Christian faith. Nevertheless, his memoir will be of interest to Buddhist readers. Besides the powerful thread of compassion throughout, Little Princes depicts a touching and enlightened friendship between the author and Farid, a sincere Buddhist practitioner.
By Jane Hirshfield
Knopf 2011; 112 pp., $25 (cloth)
After completing her bachelor’s degree at Princeton as a member of the university’s first graduating class to include women, Jane Hirshfield studied for eight years at the San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Now an award-winning poet and translator, she is the author of seven books of poetry, a collection of essays, and three anthologies of the work of women poets of the past. Come, Thief is Hirshfield’s newest book of poems, and though the verse is about ordinary things like a sweater or greenstriped melons, it’s both gorgeous and profound. Hirshfield’s work is influenced by her practice of Zen and her knowledge of classical Japanese poetry, and it frequently hinges on a moment of insight.
The All-Seeing Boy and the Blue Sky of Happiness
A Children’s Parable
By Nick Kettles; illustrated by Serena Sax Hallam
Snow Lion Publications 2011; 32 pp., $16.95 (cloth)
This charming children’s story explores loving-kindness. Our protagonist, the All- Seeing Boy, has an ordinary, mostly happy life, but when the people he loves feel sad, he wants to help them. He is convinced that there really is something he can do, if only he can figure out what it is. Then, one day, the All-Seeing Boy meets a hobo named Jason Carper, Esquire. This hobo has bright blue eyes, a ruby-red coat, and the answer the boy has been looking for. The author and illustrator are donating a percentage of their proceeds from The All-Seeing Boy and the Blue Sky of Happiness to SOS Children’s Villages’ work with the Tibetan community.
Veggiyana: The Dharma of Cooking
With 108 Deliciously Easy Vegetarian Recipes
By Sandra Garson
Wisdom Publications 2011; 360 pp., $19.95 (paper)
I was looking for a new vegetarian cookbook with satisfying recipes—a mixture of refreshing and hearty fare—but I’m no longer looking, because Veggiyana offers that perfect feast. It features recipes from around the globe, including cauliflower puttanesca, root vegetable potpie with polenta crust, thick mushroom barley soup, and Turkish pumpkin pancakes. It also has short essays with a Buddhist flavor. In some, Sandra Garson focuses on the lore and lure of a particular ingredient, such as sesame seeds or rice. In others, she delves into her colorful experiences preparing, serving, and eating meals. Garson, who has worked as a professional caterer, is the founder of Veggiyana, a charity that provides food, kitchen gardens, and nutritional education to children, monks, and nuns in numerous monastery schools.