cover image When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East

Quan Barry. Pantheon, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4811-1

Barry (We Ride upon Sticks) returns with the uneven story of a novice Buddhist monk’s search for an enlightened teacher believed to be reincarnated. Chuluun, 23, hasn’t seen his twin brother Mun for more than a year, ever since Mun renounced his vows at the monastery where they grew up. But after he retains Mun as his driver, the brothers set out across the vastness of Mongolia to look for the child among the Reindeer People of the north, the eagle hunters of the Altai Mountains, and the herders of the Gobi Desert. Along the way, Chuluun struggles with his decision over his final vows and tries to reconnect with Mun. It’s complicated, as the brothers can read each other’s thoughts, and Chuluun keeps Mun’s reason for leaving the monastery a secret until the end. Barry drops in occasional Mongolian words without defining them, which immerses the reader into the setting, but can take some getting used to. The pacing of the quest, meanwhile, is inconsistent, with bits of action here and there (including a dramatic sandstorm) among the digressions on Buddhist philosophy, but Barry brings a great deal of empathy and nuance to the brothers’ attempts to reckon with their spirituality. It’s a mixed bag, but much of this will resonate. Agent: Jennifer Lyons, Jennifer Lyons Literary. (Feb.)