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Book Reviews245 Tiberghien has found her own way through the practice of silent prayer. Her experience may simply broaden the spiritual knowledge of others as they foUow their own paths. She encourages each ofus to seek our destiny, which she defines as "a simple word, asking only that we live each present moment as it comes. It means being who we are meant to be." Reviewed by Mary Isca Serendib by Jim Toner University of Georgia Press, 2000 Cloth, $24.95 War-torn Sri Lanka is an unlikely place for a white, upper-middle-class father and son to come to terms with each other. Nevertheless, the poverty that requires many Sri Lankans to live close to the earth lends Toner and his father the opportunity to return to some emotional basics. Whereas affluent America offers material comforts to distract the soul, Sri Lanka affords no such dubious luxuries. Serendib begins with a telephone call from the author's father, informing his son that his arrival in Sri Lanka where his son is a Peace Corps volunteer is imminent. While Toner worries about soldiers barely out of childhood toting automatic weapons, classrooms without books and the social tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamals, his father wonders whether he should wear his Hush Puppies or his wing tips. "Listen, I know the Hush Puppies may not be the most practical choice. But they sure are comfortable as sUppers, and my bunions, jeeze, they're acting up these days, and so ... " And so the First World is about to meet the Third World, and a father is about to discover his son who mentally invites his clueless father to "Come, spend seven hundred uninterrupted hours with the last of your seven kids, the one you vaguely know and who vaguely knows you. . . . Come to where every one of your demons is waiting to ambush you." This is not the stuff of which travel brochures are made. In less skiUed hands, this combination of foreign travel and intergenerational rapprochement would muddy up the narrative waters. But Toner manages to weave these two strains together so that they are truly inseparable . His father's reactions to Sri Lanka's poverty, violence and—most importantly —huge generosity, graduaUy brings out a generosity of spirit his son has either ignored, or that has been buried under years of suspicion and 246Fourth Genre privilege. Or both. Toner's recognition of this part of his father leads to a new vision ofwho this old guy in wing tips reaUy is. Toner's father does not immediately adjust to the new landscape, however. It is his transformation from privileged American to adaptable traveler that aUows Toner the opportunity to see his father as a complex individual, and notjust as a figure to be rebeUed against. Serendib is fflled with scenes that both lay bare and redefine the relationship between father and son. Some of the most telling scenes happen early on after Dad arrives in the capital, Columbo. To give his father a taste ofthe real Sri Lanka, Toner takes him from the comfort of his air-conditioned hotel room and Scotch on the rocks to eat at a local kadee. There, five soldiers with machine guns smoke Marlboros at a nearby table and leer at Toner's wife. A beer bottle is thrown. A soldier saunters over and blows smoke in Toner's face. "In the corner his mates whooped and raised their machine guns, and to me this whole scene was descending into nightmare in which we three whites would soon be forced at gun-point to lick a boot." They leave without eating. Toner realizes that his petulance almost caused his wife, his father, and himself bodily harm. He keeps his radar out for the rest of the journey. That radar, too, detects changes in his father, who begins to surprise him. Dad adapts to outhouses without toilet paper, to buses so fuU of passengers they seem to defy certain laws of physics, and to both Buddhist and Hindu ritual far removed from his familiar and comforting Irish Catholicism. Writers worth reading take risks. What Toner risks is sentimentality. This is perhaps inherent...


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pp. 245-247
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