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#AWP2018, Installment #3, Ira Sukrungruang

Buddha's Dog & Other Meditations
by Ira Sukrungruang

Living in the Tampa Bay area for some years now, aside from finally attending AAWP this year that was held in Tampa, I wanted to know what writers live around me.  Lo and behold, there is a prominent writer who is also Asian American. Thai-American to be exact and his name is Ira Sukrungruang and he is a creative writing professor at University of South Florida's MFA program. I have heard his name in certain circles before, but I searched University of Tampa's booth out at the writer's conference and got to meet Ira and purchase his latest collection of personal essays.

Let me tell you, what depth and breadth of his prose, though seemingly personable in diction, like listening to your best friend confessing his or her worries and fears, it is balanced with a great amount of humor and heartbreak.  Most of all, it is also interspersed with such lyricism and universal truths. 

Buddha's Dog & Other Meditations seemed at first to have a congruous timeline that starts off with a boy who felt out of place in the United States growing up in  Chicago suburbs and very anchored to his parent's past, his parent's baggage from the mother country. Sukrungruang wrote about his childhood trips to Thailand, "I forgot I was born in Chicago.  Forgot that I was American. Forgot English. My other life eight thousand miles away, like a dream. It didn't take long, a week really, suddenly I was Thai, the most Thai I'd ever felt.  My father would tell me to speak English, to show off my American tongue to his friends at the VW garage."

The narrator shows the parallel between Buddha and dogs--this theme is interwoven through the essays. He talks of the dogs he had in the past, the dog he knew in Thailand, and also speaks of literary dogs such as "The Lady with the Dog" by Chekhov. Dogs, of course, are depicted as humble and kind sentient beings with a Buddha's nature.  

This is more than a coming of age collection of stories with characters that stood out, characters that one can fall in love with, even with their flaws and all.  The narrator comes to terms with many setbacks: his parent's divorce, his struggle with body image and relationships with women.  The essays move from the 70s, and 80s and through his college days, to the near present with a few paintings from a renown contemporary visual artist, Trenton Doyle Hancock, and essays springing from them as narrative practices exploring the self and body.

In the correlating essay to the artist's painting entitled "Faster" the narrator opens, "It is aggravating--no?--the weight you carry. It is more than the weight of your physical self. It is the metaphorical weight, the fat the clogs the metaphorical heart, the fat that causes you to think in metaphors."

The strongest character that stood out the most, the person that has been present-center throughout his life: his mother.  She does not at times hold punches, providing the narrator with doses of realism and tender brevity.

There are many, many morsels that these essays contain--another writer I am so glad to have met.  This collection will linger, finely crafted, and full of wisdom.  


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