AN END TO SUFFERING. By Pankaj Mishra. Picador. 404 pages. Paperback. $15.
Dallas, Texas (USA) -- "To have faith in one's history," writes Pankaj Mishra, "is to infuse hope into the most inert landscape and a glimmer of possibility into even the most adverse circumstances."
It's moments like these, epiphanies of such profound clarity and depth expressed with simple eloquence, that keep readers turning the pages of "An End to Suffering."
Equal parts memoir, historical novel and textbook, there are many points at which Mishra's literary hybrid could have gone terribly awry. But like a chemist working with a potentially unstable solution, the author is careful, overall, to keep the disparate elements seamlessly tied together.
Mishra is a natural storyteller, and he's at his strongest when he uses those gifts to meditate on his personal journey - and at times, his sheer frustration - with Buddha, noting the resentment he feels toward Westerners whose easy conversions to Buddhism have been facilitated largely out of economic privilege rather than necessity.
Only when he fills in the gaps with Ph.D.-level discourse, drawing in everyone from Socrates to Nietzsche, does one sense the narrative gears beginning to grind.
Readers curious about Buddhism's origins and role today would do well to start here.