Fourth Uncle in the Mountain: The Remarkable Legacy of a Buddhist Itinerant Doctor in Vietnam, by Quang Van Nguyen and Marjorie Pivar. St. Martin's Griffin, 2006
Fourth Uncle in the Mountain is a remarkable story of a boy coming of age in Viet Nam during the French and American wars there.
Abandoned as an infant in the marketplace at Cho Lach village in 1950, Quang is adopted by a respected healer and Buddhist monk, 64-year-old Thau Van Nguyen. Thau tries to raise the boy to follow in his footsteps, but the headstrong youth is more interested in dabbling in Cambodian sorcery and learning martial arts.
Eventually, Quang is accepted as a student by "Fourth Uncle,"* the same cave-dwelling hermit master who taught his adoptive father. Living in the cave and practicing meditation (with remarkable results), he embarks on the path his father had hoped he would take. Quang becomes abbot of a Buddhist temple at age 25, and, eventually, a skillful healer in his own right.
If you're unfamiliar with Southeast Asian culture and folk belief, some of Quang's story will read like fantasy. But, as someone who has spent some time in the area, I can assure you that the experiences Quang relates are accepted as being as "real" as the bakery on the corner by most Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai, and Lao.
This is a book I couldn’t put down — a great read and a wonderful introduction to a fascinating part of the Buddhist world.
*In Viet Nam, all respected elders are addressed as “uncle” (ong) or “aunt” (ba) and the order of their birth — but no one is ever called “First” for fear of arousing the envy of the spirits. So “Fourth Uncle” (Ong Bon) is actually the third born.
Contributor: Bill Hirsch.