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Customer Review

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritual Fable with Vivid Epigrams, 4 Jun. 2004
This review is from: Villa Incognito (Hardcover)
"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." Mr. Robbins has taken that premise as a challenge to his ingenuity and he crafts a memorable tale to show the collision of mindsets. I particularly admired his willingness to contrast ancient religious beliefs like animism with the major established creeds. As a result, the story becomes secondary to his educational purpose . . . and that makes the book a weak one from many perspectives.
If you don't want to learn about eastern philosophies, then you will hate this book. It's taking you somewhere where you don't want to go. If you already know a lot about eastern philosophies, you will find this book is much too superficial to be interesting. If you are looking for a good story that keeps moving from page to page, you will probably be disappointed in the slow pace of describing synchronicity . . . which seems to be the author's purpose. If you want to study how to display philosophical issues in a novel, then the book is of average interest to writers and critics. I would suggest looking to Atlas Shrugged as a better way to get the point across . . . by giving the story a driving force and memorable characters.
The story develops from several perspectives, beginning with the spiritual messenger, Tanuki, embodied on earth as a tanuki, an East Asian species of wild dog with a large scrotum. Tanuki begets a child with a human woman, and impresses a seed into the child's palate. The descendant of that child becomes a circus performer who trains, what else, tanukis. From the United States, three aviators find themselves shot down and left behind in Laos. Eventually forgotten, they escape and decide to live the simple life in a mountainous region that evokes memories of James Hilton's Shangri-La in Lost Horizon. Needing to trade for the luxuries they crave, they find ways of turning the local raw materials into wealth. In the course of doing this, they find themselves ethically challenged. The circus comes to their mountain to escape the Communist purges and they meet Tanuki's descendent. Their lives intertwine in synchronous ways that suggest a Divine hand. Then the existence of the aviators is discovered by the United States. What will the authorities do?
To me the best part of the book comes in the beautiful metaphor of the cable strung across the gorge that tightrope walkers use to cross. This thin strand is the physical connection between the Villa Incognito and the "real world." Crossing the gap is safe and even entertaining when east and west combine, but can be fatal when either one takes the trip alone or in the dark.
As I finished the book, I found myself wondering why the author thought that you have to go to the East to experience it daily. Can't you simply use meditation and a changed perspective to bring the East with you in the West? He thinks not . . . but is that right?
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Donald Mitchell
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