Sons of Isan by William Reyland is a personal account of Taking Refuge in a Thai Temple. Many of the books that we review here are instructional and will teach you about Buddhism from a spiritual, philosophical, or theoretical perspective. Sons of Isan, on the other hand, is a memoir that allows you to share in the author’s own experience of leaving the American Midwest to embark on a journey of discovery in Thailand.
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This is a beautifully written book that is evocative, illuminating, and admirably honest. We here in the West often have rather romantic ideas about the Buddhist culture of Thailand. Many of us probably like to imagine what it might be like to leave the stress of our daily nine-to-five behind and instead spend our days meditating in the quiet solitude of the forest.
Sons of Isan: Taking Refuge in a Thai Temple shows us what the reality of swapping here for there is really like. The author is bravely honest about himself and his reactions to the strange new environment, and that makes it easy for readers to feel as if they’re accompanying him every step of the way. Consider the following brief excerpt:
A heavy tropical rain has begun to fall outside my cell and giggling flashes of orange robes hurry by my open door. A platoon of ants drink from my lukewarm cup of instant coffee, and mosquitoes attack my exposed feet where they feast on an area badly chafed by my sandals. I contemplate scratching, but it’s already not healing very well. I decide instead to scratch around the area; the blood and filth blend into a flinty brown. I light a cigarette.
As evening begins to fall, the rain clouds burn off and reveal a giant Asian sun quivering midway on the horizon. Outside in the cambered light of the village, I hear the faint sound of water buffaloes shuffling along the outer wall of the temple, their hooves resounding like woodblocks on the steaming pavement.
Time with this book is very well spent, and anyone who has ever thought – even fleetingly – about taking off to join a Thai monastery will love it. William Reyland has done a fantastic job of sharing his experience in Sons of Isan and we are very grateful that he did. Both humorous and heartwarming, we give this book our highest recommendation.