A Beautiful Little Book

February 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

This fall a copy of Merry White Benezra’s novel Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly arrived in the Tricycle office. The book closely tracks the experiences of the narrator, Iris (modeled on the author), as she makes her way through an unspecified Zen Monastery dealing with an unspecified and unscrupulous Roshi. Those who have paid attention to the Zen scandals that finally broke through to the mainstream recently will know just what is being referred to, and Ms. Benezra clearly speaks from experience. But even if you have no idea what the book might be based on, you will still be able to understand the book.

The intimate descriptions of life in the monastery are convincing and moving in their details as the story moves on, month by month. Knowing how it is to end, it might be thought painful or depressing, but actually it fits in the tradition of Zen-practice-narratives-by-blundering-Westerners that is something of a sub-genre. The ending of the book is far more uplifting than the stories of many women who shared in the actual events, so don’t stay away on that account.

Special Karma is a beautiful little book, and anyone interested in Zen practice viewed through a very personal lens will find value in it, and those who have experienced pain and betrayal in their sangha will certainly see their own experiences reflected and validated there.

– Philip Ryan, Tricycle

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