Book Reviews from a Reader for Readers
The Dalai Camel is the story of a being reincarnated as a camel and searching for enlightenment. The Dalai Camel crossed oceans and continents facing adversity with his band of companions and is shares his story with the world.
I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I love a cleverly funny work of fiction. The Dalai Camel is odd in the best way. The story is irreverent, fun and, at times, deeply perceptive. We are along for the ride with the camel from the moment of his birth as he passes through a hairier place than he can remember having experienced before and in his infrequent commentaries, he gives us insight into his experience in the vast world. When asked to read and review this novel, I was all in because the character and story was not something I’d seen before and yet was reminiscent of authors I love like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. I was not disappointed.
The Dalai Camel is the narrator and, befitting a creature who is 500 years old and has finally reached the state of enlightenment; his style is the stream of consciousness. The Camel’s voice is engaging and he’s likable, although impatient at times. Life isn’t all roses for the Camel as he searches for his highest state of being. He is not alone in his quest and he has several guides to help him along. Each plot twist, no matter how improbable (and, really, what’s strange when your main character is a Buddhist Camel?) is placed in a rational context. How is he so self-aware at the moment of birth? He took a course from Swami Porkinbheens on Neptune. Did you know that people sign up to be apostles and are immediately placed in egg-shaped cartons that are then known as Apostle Egg Cartons? A lot of what the Camel says is preposterous and makes improbable sense in the context of the story about a spiritual leader who can store water in his hump.
That isn’t to suggest a lot (or any) of this novel makes sense. How does a camel wave for people to follow him? How is this camel reading auras? Who cares? The Dalai Camel is just good entertainment. His world is constantly moving and to have us along for the ride is engaging. Rachlin’s use of anecdotal style is smart as his story travels through a large chunk of recorded history. The infrequent imperfections seem purposeful because of the nature of the narrator. There’s a point in the narrative where the Camel references Monty Python, which is appropriate to the way-out-there tone of the piece so that the Camel and friends breaking out into a rousing round of “The Galaxy Song” from The Meaning of Life wouldn’t seem out of place.
I will not suggest that The Dalai Camel is for everyone. If you’re a reader who has a hard time suspending disbelief, this novel is not for you. Do you think that Douglas Adams’s characters are too out there? A camel telling his life story may not be the work to excite your reading tastes. For this reader, who is a mega fan of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde, it is a read perfectly tailored just for me. It is whacky and unafraid taking on the world with honesty. The Dalai Camel is a solid 4-star read. Give it a shot and let me know what your thoughts.