Travel literature review: Lessons From the Monk I Married

Lessons From the Monk I Married by Katherine Jenkins

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Claire Beyer

The 'find yourself' memoir/travelogue is not new to literature and has been accomplished very well by some and not so well by others. Katherine Jenkins’ story in Lessons From the Monk I Married is an honest and thoughtful memoir and although it traverses some of the clichés often found in this type of genre, it is ultimately an interesting and well-written tale.

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Jenkins’ path gestates from a seemingly inconsequential exchange with a fellow worker at the Seattle gym where she works. The friend is leaving their workplace to follow her boyfriend to SeoulSouth Korea, where he has accepted a position teaching English. The seed is planted and Jenkins cannot remove South Korea from her mind. The quest for peace had been playing on her mind for some time and now an idea had presented itself as the possible path to finding it.

Reality can be a dream breaker and as Jenkins settles into her new dwellings in Seoul she questions her decision making. Picturing a quaint temple like home with tatami mats and paper screen doors, her home instead is a room inside a 'love hotel' with no kitchen, the nights punctuated by sounds of karaoke and drunk Korean business men.

It is however only a matter of weeks before she meets the monk Su Nim and the real reason as to why she has ventured to this country quickly becomes apparent. Their connection is instantaneous but he is a monk, Jenkins reminds herself, surely this would be taboo? Nonetheless, unable to deny their feelings, they embark on a relationship and it becomes one of passion, learning but also frustration. It is when they travel, exploring Southeast Asia and India, that Su Nim can remove his robes and it is in these relaxed moments that their fate is realised and their future laid out.

Jenkins' 'lessons' punctuate each chapter and the peace that she finds she realises was not to be found in a place or in a person but from her own choices and inner voice. Her memoir will speak to many who seek their own form of peace but as she remarks, her journey is not meant to be used as a guide, it is simply her own story and to find ours we must listen to our own hearts.

Claire Beyer is part of the Sales team at Lonely Planet’s head office in Melbourne

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