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Ultimate Journey


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About the Author

Richard Bernstein lives in New York City.


In 629, a Buddhist monk named Hsuan Tsang set out from China, crossing Asia in search of Buddhist truth. Bernstein, a book critic for the New York Times and former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine, decided to retrace the monk's journey over the silk road to Pakistan and India and back to China. In this entertaining and well-written account, more travel literature than religious study, he juxtaposes his account of Hsuan Tsang's experiences with descriptions of his own trials as he journeyed through remote country and met with religious leaders and teachers. Hsuan Tsang's story is well known in China and other parts of Asia, and he is revered as a serious seeker who apparently succeeded in his quest. Bernstein's motives were somewhat more modest: he attempts to come to terms with his Jewish roots as well as his tentative and puzzled dabblings with Buddhist philosophy, and his book comes off as another account of a privileged American scratching a mid-life spiritual itch. He's at his best when he flexes his journalistic skills and draws on his considerable knowledge of Asia to create vivid and telling descriptions of present-day conditions in Asia. By the end of the journey Bernstein has endeared himself to us and we wish him well. Not an essential title but enjoyable and suitable for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, 11/1/00.]DMark Woodhouse. Elmira Coll., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Wonderful.... Deserves to become a classic in its own right."-The New York Times Book Review "Bernstein has the ability with his lucid, penetrating prose to connect the distant past to the way we live today."-Gay Talese "An engaging read, a trek that rewards with its richly tapestried background and its refreshing pauses for thoughtful historical and aesthetic insight."-Los Angeles Times "Ultimate Journey tells many tales at once, each with admirable skill. . . . There is much to ponder in the words written on the pages of this book." --The New York Times Book Review

Bernstein, a New York Times book critic and former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief, traces the famous travel route of the seventh-century Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang in this self-absorbed spiritual travel odyssey. In 629 C.E. the well-connected Hsuan Tsang decided to defy his emperor and travel to India in his quest for greater knowledge and enlightenment. His 15-year epic journey has provided inspiration for Chinese writers and schoolchildren for centuries, although it has not been as influential in the West. Bernstein, a nonpracticing Jew, admits he has only a mild interest in Buddhism, but Tsang's route had not been retraced for several centuries, so Bernstein seized the opportunity. Unfortunately, his lack of focus dulls the book's impact. Given the great travel, religious and political descriptions such a story could generate, Bernstein seems more concerned with understanding his own loneliness and lack of commitment to relationships than describing his adventure fully. The narrative floats along, occasionally stopping for a detailed description of history (as a former student of the late historian John King Fairbank, Bernstein knows his history) or of traveling companions such as Brave King. Readers who are keen on Asian travel and the historical roots of Buddhism will find this book of mild interest, but others will agree with Bernstein's own assessment in the introduction: this is "a story of a man whose biggest problem was an inability, having gotten to a certain point, to get further." (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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