Journalist and former editor of Eastwest magazine Boehm succeeds in writing a worthwhile variation on the familiar theme ``An American in Japan.'' Boehm's romance is partly with Zen monasticism and partly with Zen monks. What she is offering us is in effect a retrospect: The time is 196970, and our author has just rented a room next to one of the oldest Zen temples in Kyoto. She is taking courses in Japanese flute and Indian dance, and earning a living by teaching English. Fluent in Japanese, Boehm introduces us to monks, local families, and above all her own journey of emotional growth, which she sees as having been enhanced by the clarity of Zen. We meet a number of Americans who are immersing themselves in the culture, including the outrageous Toozie, a potter's apprentice from San Francisco, and her sexually active circle. Boehm is unexpectedly given access to the monastery, where she meets people like Zan-san, one of the more formidable senior monks (and the subject of the vivid erotic dream with which she begins her narrative), and Toku-san, who sternly warns her not to dissipate her attention by pursuing her desire to become a Renaissance woman. Mugen and Yukio, both attached to the monastery, fall in love with her. Despite temptations she preserves her virginity, has a disappointing visit to a Pure Land nunnery, and is the first foreigner to participate in the monastery's semi-annual O-sesshin of intensive meditation. Boehm's witty prose is rich, evocative, and utterly convincing, giving the reader a nuanced yet seemingly spontaneous, frank record of her experiences. Boehm avoids the pitfall of trying to overawe us with Zen wisdom and instead gives us her own eloquent sense of elusive, fleeting Zen moments and her attempts to grasp the ungraspable.
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