Happy weekend all!
I am loving this title! Do you ever judge a book by its title?
My Travels With a Dead Man
Jane Takako Wolfsheim learns she can alter time and space after meeting a charismatic stranger named Jorge Luis Borges.
Inextricably she falls for Borges. Soon, however Borges’ lies and emotional abuse, and nightmares about a demonic figure, “the man in black,” nearly drive Jane mad. After her parents are murdered, Jane flees with Borges. Both the ghost of haiku master, Basho, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a statue of Buddha that appears in her dreams, offer her cryptic advice. Unable to trust anyone, Jane must find the strength to save herself, her unborn child, and possibly the future of humanity.
My Travels With a Dead Man
Author Bio –
Steve Searls retired from the practice of law in 2002 due to a rare chronic autoimmune disorder (Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Cell Associated Periodic Syndrome). He began writing poetry in 2001 and, using the pseudonym, Tara Birch, was the featured poet of Tryst Poetry Journal’s Premiere Issue. He’s also published numerous poems as Tara Birch in print and online, including the poetry chapbook, Carrots and Bleu Cheese Dip, in 2004. Steve was also active as a blogger posting under the name, Steven D, at Daily Kos (2005-2017), Booman Tribune (2005-2017) and caucus99percent (2016–present). Steve’s published essays on Medium include “Clara’s Miracle,” about his wife’s cancer and resulting traumatic brain injury from chemotherapy, and “My Rape Story.” Raised in Colorado, he now lives with his adult son in Western NY. My Travels With a Dead Man is his first novel.
Social Media Links –
Context: After Jane inexplicably falls in love with Borges they travel to Japan for a vacation. To fulfill a promise to her dead grandmother, Jane has convinced Borges to visit Kamakura to see the famous bronze statue of the Buddha, also known as the Daibutsu.
* * *
We were at the temple of the Great Buddha in Kamakura, and I felt hypnotized. No, that’s not the right word, but how can I sum up in just one verb what I felt that day seeing the Daibutsu, that massive cast bronze statue of the Amida Buddha, above us on his stone dais?
The sun was often absent. Rain clouds passed over every few minutes, threatening showers, but failed to deliver on their promises. Yet had a thunderstorm broken out, I wouldn’t have noticed. One would think the shadows, cast by those clouds, would have darkened the glow emanating from its cracked, green tarnished metal skin. Instead, they enhanced the feeling that a living–spirit?–lurked behind the two slits that represented the Great Buddha’s eyes. As I stood there in that plaza, rimmed by the surrounding hills and uncounted trees waving in the swirling breeze, those eyes pierced me to my core. A fearsome intelligence lay behind them that held me rapt by its gentle manner and calm omniscience.
Borges rambled on, lecturing me, as was his wont. He described the many scenes in which the Daibutsu appeared in Ozu’s films. In addition, he couldn’t help speaking to me of the history of the Kamakura period, when the Emperor lost his power to a famous samurai warlord who established his capitol at the base of this small peninsula below modern day Yokohama.
My Borges loved to lecture, and most of the time I humored him. Displaying polite, if not obsequious, respect for men was drilled into me at an early age by my Japanese mother. But under the gaze of the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, I could not endure his prattle. Over the course of my life, my parents took me to see many famous statues and monuments, including Michelangelo’s David and Christ the Redeemer, which towers over Rio de Janeiro, but none ever affected me as deeply as the Great Buddha of Kamakura. It was more alive than any living being I ever encountered. Its élan vital immersed me in its embrace. I was awestruck.
“Erected in 1255,” Borges droned on, “to promote the sect of Pure Land Buddhism and create a shrine to attract pilgrims and other devotees, at almost 45 feet in height, it is the second largest Buddha in all of Japan, and the largest bronze cast Buddha in the world outside of China. A great tsunami destroyed the outer temple in the year–say, are you paying attention to me?”
“Oh shut up!” I said. “Just let me enjoy this.” At that moment, I only wished to stay by the Great Buddha forever and bask in its meditative gaze, entranced by the indescribable emotions it evoked. Borges’ interruption broke the spell. He walked away in a bad mood, sulking, refusing to speak to me for a good half-hour, though he would have said he left out of respect for my privacy. My Borges could be such an ass, but then, what man isn’t?
I sat on a bench near the Daibutsu while he stalked about, taking photographs with his digital camera. At one point, a group of Japanese middle school girls, all decked out in their traditional apparel–white blouses, knee length navy blue skirts and red scarves or neckties (the one fashion accessory allowed them)–descended upon the plaza en masse. They didn’t give the Daibutsu a second look, more interested in talking among themselves, while their teacher went off to purchase tickets for a tour of the Daibutsu’s hollow interior. More restrained than American children of the same age, their conversations never rose above the level of high-pitched humming, like the sound of honey bees near a hive.
That changed when a couple appeared with their three-year old toddler in tow. The father, a slender, classic-looking WASP, taller than Borges, carried the boy on his shoulders, while the mother, who appeared Japanese and stood a foot shorter than her husband, described the scene to him. They spoke English with a Midwestern American accent.
At once, the schoolgirls, like flies drawn to an open can of Coke, surrounded them, chatting and pointing at the child, who seemed to take their interest in him as his rightful due. The mother spoke Japanese to them. After a while, she said something to the father. With a great sigh of relief, he raised the boy over his head and set him down among the mass of young girls. Delighted, they erupted in excited outbursts, passing the little boy among themselves as he whirled around and shouted with glee like a miniature dervish. They kept repeating over and over a single word while they giggled, placing hands over their mouths as they did so: “kawaii,” meaning “cute,” though the true definition’s far more nuanced.
The little boy cavorted about the square, surrounded by his admirers. The girls’ movements resembled a flock of birds twisting through the sky on a summer day. As for the boy’s parents, the woman slumped against the man, who endured her weight like a true stoic. She kept her eyes trained on her son, but the man looked at the Great Buddha, transfixed, the only other person there as enchanted with it as I.
Suddenly, I noticed Borges’ absence, and for a moment, feared he deserted me. I almost went in search of him, until I noticed Borges weaving his way through the schoolgirls, his upraised hands holding two cups of macha, a tea flavored ice cream I cherished. He smiled as he approached, handing me one as a peace offering. We sat on the steps and ate our treats, watching the children. When the teacher arrived with the tickets, the boy’s parents reclaimed him. The father picked up his son, now much less energetic, and put him back on his shoulders. The boy rested his head atop his father’s, using his chubby arms to reach around and grab the man’s neck. With a little sigh, he closed his eyes.