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When I'm Gone, Look for Me in the East: A Novel

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From the acclaimed author of We Ride Upon Sticks comes a luminous novel that moves across a windswept Mongolia, as estranged twin brothers make a journey of duty, conflict, and renewed understanding.

"A dazzling achievement...The rhythms are more like prayer than prose, and the puzzlelike plot yields revelations." —The New York Times

Tasked with finding the reincarnation of a great lama—a spiritual teacher who may have been born anywhere in the vast Mongolian landscape—the young monk Chuluun sets out with his identical twin, Mun, who has rejected the monastic life they once shared. Their relationship will be tested on this journey through their homeland as each possesses the ability to hear the other’s thoughts.

Proving once again that she is a writer of immense range and imagination, Quan Barry carries us across a terrain as unforgiving as it is beautiful and culturally varied, from the western Altai mountains to the eerie starkness of the Gobi Desert to the ancient capital of Chinggis Khaan. As their country stretches before them, questions of faith—along with more earthly matters of love and brotherhood—haunt the twins.

Are our lives our own, or do we belong to something larger? When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East is a stunningly far-flung examination of our individual struggle to retain our convictions and discover meaning in a fast-changing world, as well as a meditation on accepting what simply is.

ISBN-13: 9780525565444

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publication Date: 01-17-2023

Pages: 320

Product Dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Born in Saigon and raised in Massachusetts, QUAN BARRY is the author of the novels She Weeps Each Time You’re Born and We Ride Upon Sticks (winner of the 2020 ALA Alex Award) and four books of poetry, including Water Puppets (winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and a PEN Open Book finalist). Barry’s first play, The Mytilenean Debate, premieres in the spring of 2022. She is the Lorraine Hansberry Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Read an Excerpt

Listen Without Distraction

Outside the post office in Bor-Urt, a handful of men clump around a pool table, its felt top sun-ravaged and mangy, the men’s faces weathered from living in a world without trees. When I step outside they stare, each man a finger in a fist, and the one slumped in the ratty camping chair at the head of the table is the thumb. I glance at the digital watch the Rinpoche hands me last night, its plastic band already cracked, the thing used. I know it is a necessity, that I must have it for the places I am to journey to in my search that must not fail. Nevertheless I feel like one of the wild horses foreign researchers shoot down with arrow guns, the animal succumbing so that the researcher can fix the radio collar around its neck, the collar eventually becoming a part of the body. After just a few hours in the July light, the skin around my wrist is already somewhat paler than the rest of me, though like the planets and the summer sun, nothing is permanent.

It is ten in the morning. The main road through Bor-Urt periodically billows with dust as a breeze blows through town. The men stare at me and then look away. Someone spits in the dirt. Hidden in the folds of my robe there is a bag filled with more tögrög than they can earn in six months or even a year if the winter is harsh. Normally they would be out on the grasslands, out watching their flocks or herding them in for one of the two daily milkings, but today they drive the many kilometers into Bor-Urt on their motorbikes to bring their wives in to do the shopping. The men huddle idly around the table as men often do as they wait for women. Men with time on their hands, looking to establish their status among their kind.

I step out of the post office, and their faces fall. I am not what they want. I am a novice of the Yatuugiin Gol monastery, a monk who lives in the shadow of the sleeping volcano. As it is mid-morning, the mail truck I am to ride to Ulaanbaatar on the first stage of my journey is not scheduled to arrive for hours. Thirteen hundred years ago Shantideva tells us the only source of happiness in the universe is the cherishing of the other. Silently I approach the table and nod.

Brother, booms the one enthroned in the camping chair. He is sitting with his legs spread wide, a toothpick in his fingers as he works at his teeth. Something in the lackadaisical arrangement of his limbs reminds me of Mun, Mun’s long black hair often loose like a horse’s mane. I only play for money, the man says.

A good policy, I say. I lay ₮2,000 on the table.

Ten minutes later and I can tell the others do not know who to root for—the one who sits outside the post office each day looking to deprive the local herdsmen of their money or me, a young monk from Yatuu Gol in his simple red robe. My body wavers like a flame in the summer heat. On the faded table the balls roll and crack like stars.