Book review: Dr. Little writes from the other side of silence

In his part spiritual memoir-part travelogue Letters from the Other Side of Silence, Dr. Joseph Little, an Associate Professor of English at NU, examines life’s meaning after having a mystical experience on a volcano in Guatemala. Told through a series of personal letters, Little’s search begins at Pacaya, finds him meeting mystics in Nepal, and eventually leads him to Friendship Village, an Agent Orange orphanage in Vietnam.

Letters is an attempt to use words to explain the ineffable. A consistent theme in the book is Little’s struggle with describing his profound experience using the inadequacy of language. The irony is of course that Little can describe abstract and complicated ideas with seeming ease. He writes about coming to know the oneness of all things, and deliberates on the rift between the “discursive” and “nondiscursive” mind. On this he writes, “Far from emptying me of my discursive self, the silence gave breath to my thoughts. They coursed along the inner landscape of my mind, slot racing at first in rigorous, analytic lines, then gliding like skaters on fresh morning ice.”

The book is filled with similarly vivid descriptions and metaphors, as well as references to books that helped shape Little’s understanding. Each page is filled with beautiful passages; on Pacaya, he writes, “The wall cracked and began to crumble, spewing impermanence everywhere as it dismantled itself boulder by fiery boulder until nothing remained but a sea of orange suede.” All of this adds up to a textured and insightful read. The act of reading Letters, however, is ultimately experiential; after being absorbed by its words, one feels as though they’ve gone on a contemplative journey themselves.

All profits from the sale of Letters will be donated to the Friendship Village. It is published by Homebound Publications and is currently available for purchase through their website.

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