Simon Winchester is such an amazing author that I will read anything he writes—whether I'm interested in the subject or not—just for the joy of the prose. He has a few books on geology, of all things, and they are completely engrossing. I'm eagerly looking forward to reading his The Man who Loved China, but I didn't bring it to Israel because it's a heavy hardback.
Instead, I brought Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles, a light paperback.
First published in 1988, the book does not demonstrate Winchester at his best. Large portions are, I'm afraid, quite dull. Other parts—mostly autobiographical ones—are somewhat disturbing. All in all, I'd recommend The Meaning of Everything instead.
But the book did offer me a bit of Shakespeare as we were flying over Iceland. I didn't see much Shakespeare-related film in Israel, but I did read a lot of Shakespearean matter. I didn't expect to find any in Winchester's book; however, there it was.
On his travels, Winchester met a man who surprises him with the sudden question, "Have I told you about my theories about your William Shakespeare?" (142). The section from the man's book (Shakespearean Tragedies Illuminated by Buddhism; or, Around the Philosophy of Retribution of Cause and Effect, Throughts of Dhyana, and Matters of Ignorance was its title, by the way) that Winchester quotes is an interesting instance of East meeting West on Shakespearean grounds:
In conclusion, Shakespeare showed up the cause and effect of human tragedy so dramatically in his masterpieces, and Buddha told us the way to avoid human tragedy and attain the Pure Land through his whole life of over eighty years. (143)Winchester summaries the thesis in his own words: "William Shakespeare may have been a wise old bird, but he couldn't hold a feather to Buddha, who had wisdom in unrivalled abundance" (143).
The book isn't brilliant, but I enjoyed finding Shakespeare in this seemingly-unlikely place—where Winchester himself found him.
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