DIARY OF A ZEN NUN by Nan (Nancy Amphoux) Shin


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Shin wanted to call this book Every Day Living--an apt title, because this grab bag of nature studies, Buddhist musings, travel memoirs, and reflections on a bout with ovarian cancer is as motley and misshapen as everyday life, filled (like life) with a fair share of epiphanies as well as stretches of hair-pulling tedium. It's difficult to get the chronology of Shin's experiences straight, for she leaps maddeningly from cancer surgery to afternoon zazen to rides in the French countryside on her Anglo-Arab gelding, Golden Gate. Perhaps this is all meant to mirror the Zen experience; after all, one of the author's many aphorisms reads ""one thing does not lead to another."" Readers attached to linear experience will feel their heads spin, but adaptive sorts may enjoy the frisky discontinuities. The best parts are Shin's reminiscences of her late Zen master, Taisen Deshimaru, who relished madcap travels around the world. Sensei, as the author calls him, was clearly an enlightened man. Her own tough-minded personality is equally engaging (her clash with a French chemotherapist who scorned alternative (e.g., macrobiotic) treatments will give succor to anyone battling the AMA mindset). But there's a big problem with her writing style: in the passages describing Zen practice, she opts for Gertrude Stein-like sentences that snake on interminably, or--even worse--staccato pseudohaiku phrases (""At the window, a leak of pallor. The bladder urges. Icy floor tiles. Thong sandals, shuffle on"") that strain for effect. Reviewer disgruntled. Good book marred by affectation. Better luck next time. Pen leaking. Time to scuttle away.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1986
Publisher: Dutton