“I was recommended to read this book by a friend and I can honestly say I couldn’t put it down. It’s a wonderful story with two wonderful characters. It really gave me food for thought as I certainly related to the New York Don. It’s very visual and I really felt like I was there in both New York and Thailand!!! The only other book that has had that kind of effect on me was The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe which I read when I was around 10 years old. I’m looking forward to reading Nick Taussig’s next book whatever that may be.” D. Hansford
“Don Don is a perfect entertaining book for me, spirituality and fiction. The book makes sense in many ways: the characters, Buddhism, Thai lives etc. Nick is very clever in the way he put things together. It could be a serious book: about life and death, and believers. But I have found myself laughing, and with tears in my eyes. The most important thing for me is it says something good about Thailand, and how we should see life. No doubt about this because I am Thai – a Buddhist myself.” Wallada Barnes
“Just finished Don Don… finished it in less than 8 hours… very interesting and enlightening… still thinking of the characters.. the author has used a very explicit language that I find honest and interesting. I also really liked the plethora of spiritual information contained in the book. The whole concept of soul merging with the universe which I had read about several times before – I could follow it better only after reading this book. I loved the non-deceptive tone of the author… it is a spiritual book with a difference. It takes reality into consideration and does not just rant on about spiritual stuff which none usually understands in other books. I especially liked the end quote by Andrew Harvey… it was very beautiful and put a poignant end to the story. Looking forward to Love and Mayhem now… This was my first book by Nick Taussig… best wishes to the author… also must add the book was unputdownable!!” 😀
“Borrowed your book Don Don from the library yesterday…started reading it some ten minutes back…had to find you out fast and tell you that I had never read a book as sharp as this.. felt like “straight from the heart-straight into the book-straight into the heart”…had never been this glad about a book…made me feel real happy for the first time in my life that I love reading books…” Poornima Sasidharan
Nick will be reading from his novel, Don Don, at Literary Death Match on Wednesday 17th August 2011: http://www.literarydeathmatch.com/
I opened my eyes at three o’clock in the morning as the temple bell tower sounded: I always woke at the same time. I no longer required the gong to wake me; rather I simply used it as a prompt to bring me from sleep back into awareness, into the present moment. I sat up, arched my back and rotated my neck; then slowly ran my right hand over my shaved head, feeling its texture and shape.
Next I put my hands to the floor, lifted my knees to the ground and leant forward on the hard mat I slept on, stretching my spine like a cat that has just woken from a deep sleep. I noted the silence, then pulled back the blind of the umbrella-tent and looked out onto the forest, still dark, a black canopy of tropical evergreen.
I reached for the lantern, lit it and watched the flame burn, its orange dance different every morning. Next I carefully extended my right leg, feeling it straighten and tense, until it was outside the tent, then leant forward and ducked my head underneath the blind, allowing my whole body to curve and follow like the passage of a swan’s neck after it has finished grooming and lengthens itself once more, this movement so smooth and graceful, my whole body aligning itself as I brought my left leg parallel with my right.
Standing upright I felt the dirt and leaves underfoot, their texture and dampness. I held the lantern aloft and made my way down to the lake, noting every step, feeling the movement of my long arms and legs and the brush of wild orchids against my ankles and shins, and when I reached the water’s edge I crouched down, sitting on my heels, and set the lantern beside me, which illuminated a small cluster of lotus flowers that added color to the dark murky green of the lake.
I placed my hands on the water’s surface, skimmed the tips of my fingers across it, then moved them in a circular motion – my fingers seeming to dance on water like a water strider – the water swirling then rippling. When I submerged my hands I heard the water swish and as I cupped my hands together and threw water in my face I heard it splash.
This moment always gave me pleasure, the commencement of morning ablutions; the first touch of cool water on my skin like morning dew on a blade of grass. I felt it on my forehead, my eyelids, my cheeks, my jaw – the steady trickle of water down my face; this face of mine which was uncommon amongst my people, long and narrow rather than round and flat, and that was typified by my nose which according to Sunnato appeared almost Roman at a certain angle rather than Thai…
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There was me at my table in Bucci’s, new Italian on Lexington up near the Chrysler Building, been there about a year and I liked it a lot. Got tired of that place on Sixth and Sullivan, great fuckin Bruschette but not much else, with one of those third generation Italians who thought he was straight out of fuckin Tuscany but had probably never even been there.
Was wearing a white Brioni tux and black bow tie, just been to the theater and my shoes were shined up like great big black jewels. Face felt a little bloated, cheeks red, like I’d eaten too much friggin cheese. Turned and looked at my reflection in the mirror. In the low light, features looked hard and threatening, but that was okay with me, always looked that way.
Smiled as I brought my hand to my mouth and the lump of gold on my finger shined. Put the Cohiba to my lips – they let me smoke in there, had a special table for me under the skylight, because I spent so much friggin money – chomped and sucked on its bit, savored that un-burnt taste, so clean and fresh, then drew on it long and hard, it flared orange as it burned, and as I exhaled the orange became ash, a kind of dull gray.
My fifth wife sat next to me. Jamie, twenty years younger than me, uptown, sensitive and beautiful. But that night she looked sad and depressed. Watched two waiters scurry back and forth, one serving us food, the other wine, a Screaming Eagle, second bottle of the night, and Jamie wasn’t drinking, just sipping on friggin water. And then I started shouting…
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“I read Don Don. I thought it was wonderful. You have such a beautiful way of writing. It’s like music. I believe you may make it into a movie. I think it would be fabulous.”
When I set about writing my second novel I realized I had to get deep into the hearts and minds of two very different men – one, a brash and bullish American millionaire with a formidable appetite for self-gratification and excess; the other, a wise and noble Thai Buddhist monk who lives a life of compassion and restraint – and that in order to do this I had to, quite literally, become them. Imagination, though a critical tool for the writer, has its limitations: it does not enable him to get inside the bellies of his characters. For this, actual experience is required. The writer must attempt to transform himself, to live his characters’ lives, in order to capture the labyrinth complexity of their innermost natures.
I began in New York, in a beat-up, grimy hotel, a throwback to the New York of old, when it was ruled by vice rather than virtue, when it possessed a brutal intensity rather than a superficial gentrification: Giuliani, for all his work on law and order, might have robbed the city of its soul. This is where my American millionaire, Don Holmes, was born and brought up, where he was driven to brawl and hustle in the shadows of this city, in its dirt and disorder, to escape his poverty, in frantic and determined pursuit of the American Dream and the utopia it promises.
Landing in JFK at midnight, I jumped in a cab and asked the driver, a gruff and moody bearded Russian, to take me downtown. ‘I want somewhere cheap and dirty,’ was all I said, and he knew exactly where to go, mumbling, quite simply, ‘Okay’. The place he chose was perfect. I threw my bags in the room and took to the streets.
I must have walked for about three hours that first night, moving, seamlessly it appeared, between good and bad block, the former showing itself as I watched a beautiful coiffured couple step from their Bentley, hand the keys to a valet, then enter a luxurious brownstone apartment block; the latter, as I saw an ageing Indian vendor, rugged and exhausted, haul his street cart back to its lock-up for the night. Don had made it to the good block, and yet he’d had to fight a dirty game in order to get there.
Back in the hotel at four a.m., I wrote through till midday, unable to sleep, thoughts ablaze, body jittery, drinking bourbon one minute (Don’s drink) and coffee the next, getting inside my character’s head, trying to feel what it was like for him, what drove him to strive for all that he had. And when I was unable to find any words I simply stared at the cigarette-stained ceiling, a yellow brown; the peeling floral wallpaper from the 70s; the old hole-ridden bedding. I managed, eventually, to fall asleep.
I woke in the early evening with the definite feeling that Don was all about desire – the desire for wealth, for power, for sex – these intense, fundamental urges which can now be fought and paid for in the West – and so I took myself to a swanky restaurant, the place an opulent haze of hallucinogenic colours, shapes and lights, and gorged myself, along with all the other beautiful people there, on Ossobuco and fine Italian wine, then got talking to a Wall Street banker who wore only Brioni and had a penthouse in Tribeca and a holiday home in the Hamptons. ‘Give me a call when you’re next in town,’ he demanded, and handed me a business card, his power etched in its striking gold-embossed letters and matt black background. And finally, I staggered back to my hotel and picked up the phone to a call girl: she knew the hotel, quite how grotty it was, but came all the same.
From hereon I continued to lead a paradoxical life of poverty and hedonism, fluctuating between the material hardship of my hotel room, Don’s youth, and the flamboyant excesses of the city, Don’s adulthood. And when I eventually left New York, it was with the sure sense that I had, at least in part, lived my character’s life, an immortal rapacious one.
And then to Thailand, but not to Bangkok or one of the paradisiacal islands, but rather to Isaan, the remote northeast of the country, where I had now to get inside the belly of my other character, the monk Ajahn Dohn, a man who thought that happiness could not be found in the fulfilment of desire but rather in its eradication. A Buddhist, he believes that our cravings can never be satiated, and that if the purpose of life is indeed the acquisition of peace and happiness, then this is best found in a simple, virtuous and disciplined life, contrary to the one I had just led in New York.
The monastery was situated high up in dense forest, looking out over a striking vista of paddy fields and low hills. I embarked on a retreat. My accommodation was a kuti, a tiny hut made of wood on stilts some eight to ten feet above the ground, with a low narrow bed, a hard mattress, a straight-backed chair, a little table and some shelving for books. I was given a list of precepts to follow: refrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and taking intoxicants. There were also four additional rules of abstinence: eat just one meal a day, have no entertainment, remain silent, and sit and sleep on low, hard surfaces.
I did not sleep well that first night and when the bell sounded at three-thirty a.m. to call everyone to morning chanting and meditation I felt as if I were simply in the midst of a bad dream. I dragged myself to my feet, put on the white shirt and trousers I had been given, and made my clumsy, somnolent way in total darkness up the path that led to the uposatha hall, the main temple building.
Inside I found twenty men and women all seated in perfect upright cross-legged postures, as if puppets’ strings ran all the way from the bases of their spines to the tops of their heads and these were being pulled gently. I, on the other hand, sat slouched on the floor like Jabba the Hut, hunch-backed, bloated and uncomfortable as the abbot commenced the meditation.
All I had to do, he instructed, was focus on my breath in my abdomen, its rising and falling, and yet even this I was unable to do, my mind leaping like a monkey with ADHD from one thought and emotion to the next. I had come here to attain the calm and equanimity of Ajahn Dohn, and yet what I was actually experiencing was more akin to the frustration of a prisoner in solitary confinement going out of his fucking mind.
But once I stopped fighting, once I was able to let go, I had a brief glimpse of the exquisite beauty and simplicity of my other character’s life. The rational, hard-nosed sceptic in me who was all too willing to dismiss eastern spiritual practices as no more than impractical, escapist and delusional had to concede that there was something in them after all.
And so for the next three days I meditated for some ten hours a day, and slowly the thick mud in my mind began to clear and all the striving and craving began to dwindle, and with this came the sense that perhaps I could be happy without indulging myself, without the acquisition of wealth or power.
Back in London, the novel now written, I am still not sure whether I would rather be ablaze with desire like Don or equanimous in mind like Ajahn Dohn. But I am grateful to both of them for showing me their ways.
“Loved this book! It’s really poignant, and you feel like you’re with the characters as they find themselves hurled into an emotional and spiritual journey – their last journey in fact. I didn’t really know much about Buddhism or meditation before I read Don Don, but following the story of the monk and cityboy and how they react to the news of their death really makes you think about how you approach life yourself. The brash NY character Don makes you both laugh and cry. Really thought-provoking stuff – would highly recommend if you like your books to be intelligent and to stay with you after you put them down.” L. Honour