Buddhism for Western Children by Kirstin Allio is a novel about ten-year-old Daniel and his family and life following a guru. Allio is the author of Clothed, Female Figure and Garner, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for first fiction. Her honors include the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and a PEN/O. Henry Prize.
The story is told through the eyes of Daniel, a ten-year-old boy, and their family’s quest into spirituality. The guru and living god is Avadhoot Master King Ivanovich a Russian who plays piano and speaks to his followers in crude poetry. The confusion about the attraction to cults is reflected in the writing. The prose is excellent, a bit surreal and sometimes confusing. It seems to signal that the difference in what is seen and heard inside the cult and what the outsider (reader) sees and hears. The guru seems to speak to a deeper level to his followers and what the reader sees seems somewhat crass.
Allio weaves together a story of the cult mindset, the perseverance of the young mind, absurdity, and beautifully written lyrical poetry. Her writing style is enough to draw in the reader looking to escape the modern simplistic prose that defines today’s society. The style and fluidity of this book are reminiscent to Modernism and even the writing style of Virginia Woolf. Buddhism for Western Children is rewarding on several levels.