A brief but valuable narrative of travel by essayist Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart, 1994, etc.), exploring the sacred and...

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QUESTIONS OF HEAVEN: The Chinese Journeys of an American Buddhist

A brief but valuable narrative of travel by essayist Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart, 1994, etc.), exploring the sacred and the profane in contemporary China. Ehrlich's search for an authentic Chinese culture and spirituality at first leads only to frustration. She climbs Emeishan, a mountain sacred in both Buddhist and Taoist traditions, only to find it overrun by crass commercialism. The few monks who operate a guesthouse for pilgrims don't impress Ehrlich as being very devout; instead, they are obsessed with TV. When she reaches the peak, she finds partially constructed ""Las Vegas--style"" hotels and aggressive, ravenous monkeys who steal food and jewelry from tourists. Ehrlich suggests that much of this shambles can be traced back to Mao's Cultural Revolution, which irrevocably destroyed many of the remaining elements of an ancient culture. The second half of the book offers a slightly more optimistic view. Ehrlich travels to Lijiang, a remote city in the mountains near Tibet, and discovers a stubborn, persistent strain of ancient Chinese culture. She meets an aged musician who was imprisoned for 20 years by Mao and kept his sanity while in isolation by singing Taoist melodies to himself. Now free, his commitment to preserving elements of Chinese culture has led to the formation of a small orchestra, which has revived ancient musical traditions. In the book's last pages, Ehrlich travels with the orchestra to London on their first international trip, bringing the music of a lost culture to the West. The book is a fine travelogue but would have been more compelling if the author had provided a bit more on her own spiritual journey. In all, though, a worthy read.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0807073113

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997