The Soloist
Mark Salzman
Random House: New York, 1994.
284 pp. $19.00 (cloth).

Amy Hollowell


This could have been a helluva book, a marvel, a veritable gem glistening in the dull, plastic body of contemporary American fiction. Or could it? Gould a novel that mixes so many genres—thriller, courtroom drama, love story, spiritual awakening—do justice to any of them, much less to the artful telling of a tale? And could any of the subjects in which the author dabbles here—Zen, classical music, Asian culture, immigrants in America, the U.S. legal system—be given much more than a monochromatic rendering?

As a Zen student, a writer, and an admirer of Mark Salzman’s first book, Iron and Silk, I was excited to learn that he had written a novel in which a Zen student is accused of killing his teacher. It had a superb plot line, appealing not only to Zen students (who may themselves have secretly entertained such murderous notions when in the clutches of koan study) but to a more general audience interested in a somewhat offbeat murder mystery with a twist. It also seemed to present a tremendous opportunity to introduce readers to Buddhism in general and Zen in particular, especially given the relatively reflective, spiritual tone of the times.

But of course things are what they are, not what we would like them to be.

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