Twin Brothers on a Quest to Find the Next Dalai Lama

Twin Brothers on a Quest to Discover the Subsequent Dalai Lama

By Quan Barry
302 pages. Pantheon Books. $27.

A line of imperfect telepathic communication runs between twin brothers. They will converse to one another with out opening their mouths. At evening they listen in on one another’s goals. Experiences go between the 2 “like books in a library.” When one twin drinks, the opposite will get a hangover.

The twins are Mun and Chuluun, 23 years outdated in 2015, when Quan Barry’s mesmerizing and delicate new novel, her third, takes place. Chuluun research at a Buddhist monastery tucked within the shadow of a volcano in Mongolia. Mun wears Western-style garments and lives within the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the place he indulges in expertise, tattoos, curse phrases and cigarettes. One of many males is placid and the opposite mutinous. Their eerie psychological overlap is a supply of mutual resentment. Every twin needs the opposite out of his head.

They’re introduced collectively when tasked with the mission of roaming the nation to seek out the following Dalai Lama — the kid who will develop into the face of Tibetan Buddhism following the dying of the incumbent. There are three candidates for the brothers to go to: one in sub-Siberian hill nation, one in a mountainous far western province and one within the southern reaches of the nation. Two boys and a lady. All younger youngsters, every a possible reincarnation of the unique religious chief who, in keeping with custom, is successively embodied because the Dalai Lama.

On this sense, the novel takes the acquainted type of a quest. Alongside the journey there’s an accident, a self-sacrifice, disasters, dying. There are pure wonders and metaphysical conundrums. There may be yak butter.

Mun, it seems, is himself a reincarnation of a historic determine. At 8 years outdated, he’s acknowledged because the fifth incarnation of the Paljor Jamgon, the “Redeemer Who Sounds the Conch within the Darkness.” It’s a protracted title for somewhat child. Mun is “found” on the distant grasslands in a lot the best way {that a} future pop star is perhaps found on YouTube. He’s then ordained at a monastery — considerably in opposition to his will — and assumes a raft of duties. Privileges are heaped upon him, too: tutors, a personal cook dinner, presents, separate dwelling quarters. A golden cushion cradles his blessed butt.

Chuluun, who has additionally been swept off to the monastery, adapts simply to the establishment’s routines and restraints. He enjoys chanting and meditation. Mun doesn’t — he’d moderately play video games on horseback than display the endless compassion required of his place, and his recalcitrance causes whispers to flow into. Some monks query whether or not Mun deserves his materials distinctions. One asks a colleague whether or not a mistake has been made — maybe, he suggests, the management has acknowledged the incorrect brother as a reincarnation.

Finally — underneath circumstances which might be initially cloudy — Mun renounces his robes and finds his technique to the town, leaving Chuluun behind to apply calligraphy and ruminate on his sense of abandonment. When the 2 are compelled to reunite, a chasm of spite yawns between them. The battle alternately fuels and impedes their voyage in a rickety automotive throughout Mongolia’s steppes and dunes as they search for the Dalai Lama’s inheritor.

“After I’m Gone, Search for Me within the East” is a wild departure from Barry’s earlier novel, the fizzy and maniacal “We Ride Upon Sticks,” which occurred in coastal Massachusetts and anxious a discipline hockey group, witchcraft, adolescent hormones and Emilio Estevez. The brand new novel facilities on religion, historical past, language and craving.

Credit score…Jim Barnard

Barry’s abiding curiosity in enchantment is the connective tissue between the 2 books, however she has taken an enormous leap ahead as a novelist — the place “We Experience Upon Sticks” was a energetic however barely disorganized romp, this one is a stunning achievement. Type and material mix within the ebook to change an individual’s very studying metabolism: The rhythms are extra like prayer than prose, and the puzzlelike plot yields revelations in unassuming sentences {that a} skimming eye might simply miss.

The novel brims with formal peculiarities seemingly designed to domesticate alertness — they usually do. A desk of contents consists not of chapter titles however of 9 illustrated symbols. Chronological video games abound. Phrases repeat all through the textual content. Chuluun’s narration shimmers between a number of time frames. The complete novel is written with out the usage of the previous tense.

All of this technical sorcery would possibly make it sound as if Barry has written an exhausting ebook, however studying it’s no extra demanding than strolling on comfortable grass. On this approach, it jogged my memory of Susanna Clarke’s ingenious “Piranesi” — the one different latest novel that was as a lot a piece of philosophy because it was a thriller. As in “Piranesi,” the thriller right here revolves completely round identification: It’s a whoisit moderately than a whodunit. Is Chuluun as religious as he seems? Is his insistence on perpetual renunciation a type of self-deception? How effectively does he know his brother? Or himself?

Early within the novel, Chuluun reveals that he and his brother had been born with a caul — every of their faces shrouded in a skinny layer of amniotic membrane. One other caulbearer of literature, David Copperfield, instantly jumps to thoughts. There are candy and stunning echoes of Dickens all through Barry’s novel. They are often discovered within the ebook’s episodic construction and ethical depth; within the self-laceration of its narrator; within the Victorian-flavored part headings. (“A Combination of Compassion and Fury,” “Catastrophe!”)

When you’re pondering that this provides as much as the world’s weirdest logline — “A Buddhist sentimental schooling with stylistic innovation … plus twins!” — you’re not incorrect. The unlikeliness of this novel is precisely its magic.

Source link