71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
In search of the eternal state of being,
This review is from: The Dharma Bums (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (Paperback)
As Kerouac notes in the introductory chapter, he met Gary Snyder, a.k.a. Japhy Ryder in 1955, just before Snyder went off to Japan to immerse himself in Zen Buddhism. What follows is a free-wheeling account of their time together in perhaps Kerouac's most appealling and certainly most postive book. Dharma Bums is a celebration of American Buddhism, which was budding in San Francisco at the time, with a number of Beat poets reading their haikus and free-verse poems at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Once again, Kerouac revels in changing names, but among the many prominent faces presented in this autobiographical novel are Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Snyder was the rising star, a Buddhist scholar and translator of books of Japanese and Chinese poetry while studying at Berkley. Snyder, like Kerouac, had working class roots and the two hit it off from the start, exulting in each other's state of being.
Kerouac devotes Dharma Bums to Snyder in the same way he did On the Road to Neal Cassady. It was one of Kerouac's more happy times, as he was heavy into Buddhism, and sought out Snyder as a soulmate and mentor. Kerouac sets the stage wonderfully, coming across a hobo reading from St. Theresa on a train bound for LA, coming back from Mexico. He then hops the "Zipper" up to San Francisco, which whirled along at 80 miles an hour on the California coastline. Kerouac hangs out at Ginsberg's cabin in the Berkley hills, but it is Snyder's spartan cabin that draws his attention. Snyder had already chosen to live the life of an aesthete, giving up most of his worldly possessions, except for his famous rucksack and orange crates of books, mostly of poetry. Kerouac captures some wonderful moments as they all gathered around drinking wine and engaging in yab yum with a girl who went by the name of Princess.
The heart of the story revolves around Jack's and Gary's hike to the Matterhorn in the Sierra Nevada, in which the two form a strong bond that propells Kerouac on other adventures, including a summer at Desolation Peak in the northern Cascades that would become the subject of his next book, Desolation Angels. Kerouac's writing shines in this book, as he is able to maintain such an ecstatic high throughout the narrative, almost seeming to touch the sky. Of course, having such a positive person like Gary Snyder to wrap the book around gave Kerouac the impelling force he needed, as on his own Kerouac often sank into melancholy and despair, which characterized his later years. One marvels at the free and easy nature of this pair as they search out their respective enlightenment, drawing on nature and their sense of the eternal cosmos.
One doesn't have to be well versed in Buddhism to appreciate this book, although allusions and references are many and may confuse some readers. Just let yourself go and enjoy the free flow of the narrative, which is Kerouac at his best.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 26, 2008 4:10:45 PM PDT
Tome Raider says:
Excellent review, but I'm currently reading this book and I'm frequently astounded by the chaotic, rambling narrative and the over-the-top Buddhist cliches. On the Road was a life altering read, but with Dharma Bums I find myself regularly thinking of Truman Capote's quote: "This isn't writing, this is typing."
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 6, 2009 3:04:17 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 8, 2009 9:36:47 PM PDT
T. Baughman says:
Even as a teenager, I thought this book was really lame, as i did with evereything else Kerouac wrote.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 6, 2010 11:06:10 AM PST
J. Asam says:
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2010 2:13:55 PM PDT
Miss Havisham says:
Mr. Ferguson, I think the previous poster (J. Asam) was aiming his/her comments to T. Baughman, not to you. Your review was excellent, and I thank you for it.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 13, 2010 6:07:28 AM PDT
James Ferguson says:
Seems you are right and thank you for the kind comments. In many ways this is my favorite Kerouac book.
Posted on May 20, 2011 4:33:12 PM PDT
hey. i was thumping around, and the book is supposed to be 435 pages or so, but the The Dharma Burns books i see on amazon (including this one) all say about 224 pages. is the 224 pages another EDITED VERSION such as the 307 page On the Road, or am i mistaken in it being 435 pages?
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