When I’m Gone: Searching for the Reincarnation in Mongolia

Video when i'm gone look for me in the east

An Unconventional Adventure in Search of a Sacred Lama

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

In 2015, Chuluun, a young novice Buddhist monk, embarks on a perilous journey across the wilds of Mongolia. His mission? To locate the hidden child reincarnation of a revered lama. But this is no ordinary adventure tale. Quan Barry’s novel, “When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East,” explores the intricacies of history, philosophy, religion, and the clash between tradition and modernity.

A Quest Filled with Perils and Doubt

Chuluun’s search is fraught with danger, not only from external threats like sandstorms and lynxes but also from a deep internal doubt about his spiritual path. To compound matters, his twin brother, notorious for abandoning the monastery to embrace Western ways, joins the expedition. Together, they encounter sheep thieves and face other unexpected challenges that test their resolve.

An Enigmatic Narrative Structure

Barry’s unique storytelling style may take some getting used to. With short chapters that often abruptly end and resume in the same scene, she challenges conventional notions of narrative structure. The author suggests that the way we perceive time is artificial and illusory, a theme that permeates the book.

A Fluid Exploration of Time and Existence

The narrative seamlessly transitions between past and present, dreams and reality. Every aspect, from a childhood memory to a description of Marco Polo’s life, is conveyed in the present tense. While this may initially feel disorienting, it serves to underscore Chuluun’s reminder that “time is irrelevant” and that only the present moment truly matters.

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Buddhism in a Globalized World

Barry’s novel delves into the intersection of Buddhism and contemporary culture. Even in the remote reaches of Mongolia, the clash between old traditions and the influence of global pop culture is palpable. Monks sport digital watches, own iPhones, and have Facebook friends, while foreign tourists encroach upon the traditionally untouched landscapes.

Dualities and Contrasts

The tension between the old and the new isn’t the only duality explored in the book. Mongolia’s legendary hero, Chinggis Khaan, represents an alternative worldview to that of the monks. As Chuluun’s brother, a devoted follower of Khaan, straddles both worlds, the novel underscores that we are all shaped by multiple traditions.

Complex Characters and Universal Questions

Chuluun’s twin brother and their fellow search party members are enigmatic and multi-dimensional individuals. Together, they grapple with their own personal struggles and grow through adversity. Barry’s story isn’t solely for those interested in Buddhism; it poses profound questions about the nature of our existence and our place in the world.

A Tapestry of Life and Culture

In addition to its philosophical weight, the novel offers a tapestry of vivid experiences. Readers will encounter surprising history lessons, epic migrations, tales of survival, and intimate details of Mongolian life. From wild horseback contests to children hunting with eagles and the mystical sky burial ritual, Barry’s landscapes come alive with lyrical and haunting descriptions.

A Thought-Provoking Conclusion

The book culminates in a satisfying yet open-ended conclusion. Just as time eludes our grasp, the narrative leaves some questions unanswered. As a wise child reminds Chuluun, some truths are as obvious as reaching Ulaanbaatar or not. “When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East” is a remarkable and gentle tale, brimming with magic and miracles.

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Join Chuluun on his extraordinary quest by diving into the captivating world of “When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East.”


Sally Shivnan, the author of the short-story collection “Piranhas & Quicksand & Love,” has had her fiction and essays published in esteemed journals such as the Georgia Review and Glimmer Train. She is also an accomplished travel writer, with her work featured in anthologies and prominent publications like the Washington Post and Nature Conservancy Magazine. Sally Shivnan currently imparts her wisdom at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). 5 WS

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