Misguided Devotion: On Kirstin Allio's "Buddhism for Western Children"

Susan weighs in on Kirstin Allio’s new book Buddhism for Western Children for the Los Angeles Review of Books

The abuse of power by spiritual teachers can cause lifelong trauma in their victims, and it is in its exploration of this theme that Kirstin Allio’s new novel Buddhism for Western Children is most affecting. The conventional wisdom is that it’s not possible to understand spiritual experiences conceptually. The same could be said of trauma. One cannot truly understand trauma and its aftermath by thinking it through; there’s an unbearably naked quality to the experience that’s hard to fathom without having lived it.

Through the remarkable structure of her book, Allio offers readers a visceral experience of disassociation. Happiness is elusive for Allio's characters, but they find comfort in connection and understanding. As evidenced by hashtags like #SpiritualAbuse, #MeTooChurch, and #MeTooGuru, this type of healing is trying to happen in the real world too. In the ongoing war against the abuse of power by clergy, Allio’s disturbing novel is an urgent bulletin from the front. 

Susan Kaiser Greenland