The Finger is Fiction

You Are Not Here and Other Works of Buddhist FictionEd. Keith Kachtick, Wisdom Publications Boston 2006

The radical notion of collecting Buddhist fiction presents a sort of koan: Is fiction the dharma? Is the dharma fiction? The stories in You Are Not Here, like most anthologies, are hit or miss. The hits are very good, and even the misses offer fine writing and a valuable response to the koan.

The first story, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler, concerns an elderly man from Vietnam now living in the US where his children and grandchildren have grown up. His family is still actively anticommunist, but he is being visited by the ghost of his old friend, Ho Chi Minh. There are direct Buddhist references in the narrative, but more importantly the story evokes the contemplative aesthetic:

“This was a smell that had nothing to do with flowers…”

Butler uses the sensation of smell, a sense that develops pre-language, in a narrative that exists only as language, mimeticly demonstrating the […]