Mesmerizing and delicate ... The novel takes the familiar form of a quest. Along the journey there is an accident, a self-sacrifice, disasters, death. There are natural wonders and metaphysical conundrum ... When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East is a wild departure from Barry’s previous novel, the fizzy and maniacal We Ride Upon Sticks ... The new novel centers on faith, history, language and yearning ... [Barry] has taken a giant leap forward as a novelist ... This one is a dazzling achievement. Form and subject matter combine in the book to alter a person’s very reading metabolism: The rhythms are more like prayer than prose, and the puzzlelike plot yields revelations in unassuming sentences that a skimming eye could easily miss ...The novel brims with formal peculiarities seemingly designed to cultivate alertness — and they do ...Chronological games abound. Phrases repeat throughout the text. Chuluun’s narration shimmers between several time frames. The entire novel is written without the use of the past tense ... All of this technical sorcery might make it sound as though Barry has written an exhausting book, but reading it is no more demanding than walking on soft grass ...The unlikeliness of this novel is exactly its magic.
Engrossing ... Its unconventional storytelling and fantastical elements will appeal to fans of Barry’s other books ... Barry showcases the diversity of cultures and traditions within Mongolia and weaves in relevant historical context...to help readers understand their significance ... But at times, this material feels inorganic — expository insertions for the benefit of a Western audience more fitting for a memoir than the narration of a novel ... These explanatory moments are somewhat distracting and make it difficult to settle into the story ... Barry clearly devoted a lot of time to researching Mongolia and Buddhism in the process of drafting this novel. She sprinkles Mongolian words throughout...and sometimes the words aren’t translated, but they can usually be deduced by the context.... The pacing, explanations, and setup of the book make readers feel as if they are taking a whirlwind tour of Mongolia complete with introductions to traditional food and dress, elucidations of modern-day regional politics, and even commentary on how tourists shift traditions. Readers will come away with perspectives on issues such as Chinese involvement in Buddhism that they may not have considered, and the novel raises interesting questions about faith, doubt, and who we believe ourselves to be. But, as is the case with tourism, it is unclear how much this perspective is itself distorted by the fact that it was written with an English-speaking, Western audience in mind ... Still, how many novels set in contemporary Mongolia are available to English-speaking readers? At its heart, When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East asks questions fundamental to the human experience that will resonate regardless of the reader’s familiarity with Mongolia.
The course of Barry’s road-trip narrative is about as linear as the Buddhist path—which is to say, not at all ... There’s much to savor in Barry’s descriptions of Buddhist scripture, rites and concepts. But if you’re looking for the writing found in We Ride Upon Sticks, you’ll be disappointed. Not to say that the sentences in When I’m Gone are not strong or beautiful—they are both ... The satisfactions of narrative, on the other hand, are more elusive. As the story moves from the territory of the Reindeer People to the Western mountains, then back to the steppes and then over to the stark monastery, what began with the trappings of a novel turns into more of a travelogue ... Barry is most successful when she allows a scene to reveal Chuluun’s character, especially his ambivalence about the monastic life ... The author also excels when using the lens of Mongolia to illuminate global crosscurrents ... the author exposes overlooked places and history in a world where, against all odds, there is always something new under the desert sun.
When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East is no ordinary adventure tale. Although the events, and the landscapes, are strange and wondrous, Quan Barry’s new novel is utterly original, a unique immersion in history, philosophy, religion, the nature of time, and the clash of old and new happening all over our world. It can take a few pages to get the hang of this book, with its short chapters — most just a page or two long — which often end in mid-scene and pick up again in the same place, upending traditional ideas of what a chapter or a scene should be. Barry is implying that the ways we divide time are artificial, that time itself is illusory, a theme that is everywhere in her book ... Although Barry’s story is drenched in Buddhist ideas, it is not just for people interested in Buddhism. The questions Chuluun wrestles with are for everyone ... The author’s landscapes are thrilling ... An award-winning poet, Barry shapes transparent, simple language into images that are lyrical and haunting ... When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East is a story of much magic and many miracles — a startling, yet gentle, book.
Evincing the same dazzling talents that won high critical praise for We Ride upon Sticks, Barry vastly expands readers’ horizons, both geographical and metaphysical, as she chronicles Chulun’s trials in performing his arduous spiritual task ... Readers’ most transformative experience comes by reflecting...on the Four Noble Buddhist Truths and the Eight-Fold Path, the spiritual precepts the protagonist has learned from his grandfather, investing otherwise-vapid experiences with profound meaning. Though the narrative focuses on Mongolian Buddhism, readers learn how Buddhists everywhere have suffered as Chinese communists have persecuted the faith rooted in Tibet. An imaginative tour de force.
Uneven ... Barry drops in occasional Mongolian words without defining them, which immerses the reader into the setting, but can take some getting used to. The pacing of the quest, meanwhile, is inconsistent, with bits of action here and there...among the digressions on Buddhist philosophy, but Barry brings a great deal of empathy and nuance to the brothers’ attempts to reckon with their spirituality. It’s a mixed bag, but much of this will resonate.
Barry is a poetic writer even in her fiction, and readers looking for a more straightforward story might be put off by the imagery-heavy narration. But others who tolerate a bit of confusion toward the beginning will be rewarded with elegiac passages on faith and doubt ... A dreamlike and lyrical journey steeped in the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism.