What happens when a lapsed-Catholic house painter from Glasgow suddenly takes up Buddhist meditation? For Jimmy McKenna—”Da” (Scottish for “Dad”) in Buddha Da, Anne Donovan’s acclaimed first novel, just published in the U.S.—it’s the undoing of his pleasant if predictable life with wife, Liz, and adolescent daughter, Anne Marie. The three chronicle the fallout from Jimmy’s spiritual quest in alternating chapters (and Scottish dialect). Here’s Anne Marie:
Ma Da’s a nutter. Radio rental. He’d dae anythin for a laugh so he wid; went doon the shops wi a perra knickers on his heid, tellt the wifie next door we’d won the lottery and were flittin tae Barbados, but that wis daft stuff compared tae whit he’s went and done noo. He’s turnt intae a Buddhist. At first Ma thought it wis another wanny his jokes. “Ah’m just gaun doon the Buddhist Centre for a couple hours, Liz, ah’ll no be lang.” “Aw, aye, is there free bevvy [drink] there?” “Naw, hen, ah’m serious. Just thought ah’d go and have a wee meditate, try it oot, know?” Mammy turnt roond fae the washin up, and gied him . . . wanny they ‘whit’s he up tae noo?’ looks ah’d seen a million times afore. “Jimmy, do’you think ma heid buttons up the back? Yer a heathen. The last time ye set fit in a chapel wis when yer daddy died. The time afore that was when ah’d tae drag you tae Anne Marie’s First Communion. And you’re tellin me you’re gaun tae a Buddhist Centre on a Tuesday night, quiz night doon the Hielander? Tae meditate? Gie’s a break.” At first bein a Buddhist didnae seem tae make that much difference tae ma da. He used tae go doon the pub on a Tuesday and noo he went tae the Buddhist Centre tae meditate. Same difference. He never talked aboot it, wis still the same auld da, gaun tae his work, cairryin on in the hoose. He stuck a photie of the Buddha up on the unit in their bedroom and noo and again he’d go in there and shut the door insteid of watching the telly – meditatin, he said. Ah thought he’d get fed up wi it. . . . But efter a few weeks he wis still gaun tae the Center and he’d start meditatin in the hoose every night for aboot hauf an hour. Ah decided tae ask him aboot it. “Da?” “Aye, hen.” “See this meditation, whit is it?” He pulled a face. “Ah’m no sure how tae stert. It’s difficult tae explain.” “Aye, but, whit d’you dae?” “Well you sit doon quiet and you try tae empty yer mind, well no exactly empty, mair quiet it doon so aw the thoughts that go fleein aboot in yer heid kinda slow doon and don’t annoy ye.” “Why?” “Ah’m no very sure masel, hen.” “D’you like daein it?” He smiled. “Aye, hen, ah dae.” “Mibbe that’s why.” “Mibbe you’re right. That’s dead profound. Mibbe you’re a Buddhist and you don’t know it.” “Ah don’t think ah want tae be a Buddhist, Daddy.” “How no, hen?” “If ah went tae meditate wi you ah’d miss Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
From Buddha Da, © 2002 by Anne Donovan. Reprinted with permission of Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh; Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York; and Penguin Canada.