Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: Sons of Isan by William Reyland

Genre: Travel Memoir


“What if someone born and raised in the American Midwest were suddenly immersed in the culture of a Buddhist monastery in rural Thailand? This is a true story told with unflinching introspection and honesty – along with generous helpings of humor and warmth. William Reyland’s vivid and detailed descriptions of people and places carry us instantly half way around the globe. An admittedly naïve aspiration leads, by a tortuous path, to deeper understanding—and along the way we are offered a glimpse behind the saffron robes into our common human predicament.”


“From a decade of living and studying abroad, part of which in Buddhist robes, William Reyland has contributed to religious studies research and published nonfiction and cultural reflections from across southeast and eastern Asia. His writing conveys a warmth and adoration for those other places and the beauty of living life fully. He currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri serving as an interfaith hospice chaplain.”


Before reading I was told that this book was “tough to categorize” which is a fair statement. It’s definitely a memoir, in that it chronicles a period of the author’s life along with his reaction to what was going on with and around him. It gives a bit of a sense of what it is like living in a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand, complicated due to the immense cultural differences between the author’s American Midwest history and rural Thailand. You’ll also learn a bit about Buddhism in the process of reading.

In spite of the author spending the vast majority of the book sitting in one area, calling it a travel book doesn’t seem unreasonable. The author is far from home, experiencing a new area geographically and, as mentioned above, culturally. Those are the main things I’d expect from a travel book. That he didn’t spend a lot of time chronicling the trip from and back to the US is, I suspect, because it wouldn’t add anything to the story. One thing that I like to see in travel books is the adventures (often hassles) of dealing with various logistics of the trip. We do see a bit of that as the author has to leave the country and then return because he is initially there on a short-term visa which can be reset by leaving the country for just a short time and later what he does so that he doesn’t have to continue resetting his visa.

This was a unique, often enlightening, and fun book to read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

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