Blog is back. I’m heartsick about the evil perpetrated in Orlando and can’t wrap my mind around the horror, so here’s another in the book series.
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Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey is one of those rare books that I borrowed from the library and then bought. I will read it again. It will take on new meaning now.
Marie Mutsuki Mockett balances the global with the personal in a poetic and evocative narrative. As a member of a family who owned a Buddhist temple, Mockett knows the language and culture well enough to provide an “inside ritual” view. Check out the water monster of the prologue. She grew up in the United States and thus has the distance on the culture to explain mysteries to Westerners – including ghosts. The ability to live in two worlds gives Where the Dead Pause grace and beauty.
Mockett frames her personal journey with the disaster at Fukushima. The power plant was so close to her family’s temple that she couldn’t return her grandfather’s bones because of radioactivity. Having toured a nuclear power plant that was offline for maintenance I could identify with the precautions she took — suit, booties, etc. Her story made me grateful that I didn’t have family entombed in the radioactive wasteland.
The narrative is most powerful when Mockett writes of her own grief. She was able to visit other temples farther from the contamination, and her impressions of the monks provide humor, a sense of empathy, and some outrage. I had no idea there were so many flavors of Buddhism in Japan, some of which meld with Shinto and other earlier practices. Mockett strikes a note of pathos describing how the monks are forcing the end of the blind female shaman who have existed for centuries.
In the way of things, I was reading Where the Dead Pause when I came across information about a new translation of The Tale of Genji. Seeing the pair together was a revelation of how much (and how little) has changed in Japan since the eleventh century.