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Book Reviews's readers' reviews 

of Crooked Cucumber  - 12 of them.

An inspiring account

Reviewer: Dave from Boston, Mass.

February 16, 2000

I think that a lot of what can be learned from a great teacher is found not in what they say, but from just being around them--observing everything from their relationships with other people to the way they treat everyday objects. This book gives a strong impression of what it would have been like to be around Suzuki-roshi and to observe his ordinary, enlightened behavior. And it's all told with skill and simplicity. Much gratitude to the author and his subject. Was this review helpful to you?


Very good! Well done Mr. Chadwick

Reviewer: Reader from Oklahoma, USA

December 22, 1999

I could not put this book down. Mr. Chadwick has produced an outstanding biography of Suzuki and a fascinating history of his times.


Meet Suzuki Roshi

Reviewer: from Nova Scotia

November 1, 1999

Early Buddhists in India were inspired by the biographies of great teachers such as Shariputra and Ananda. For over a thousand years the Chinese have had the stories of their patriarchs, most notably Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch. All Tibetans know by heart the details of the lives of Padmasambhava and Milarepa. For the Japanese, Kobo Daishi, Dogen and Hakuin have taught many millions through the examples found in their biographies. In every age and in every Buddhist country, the great teachers have repeatedly encouraged their followers to study the lives of various lineage holders. Now, at last, Westerners can benefit from the story of a man who successfully transplanted his lineage to American soil. Chadwick's book, the first of its kind in English, is a great contribution to Buddhist literature. Future biographers of other great teachers who have taught in America, such as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama, will now have Crooked Cucumber to help them continue to record how the teachings of Buddhism are passed from one real country to another, from human teachers to human disciples. Most importantly, Chadwick has somehow enabled us to actually meet Suzuki Roshi, face-to-face. Finally, through this book, Suzuki Roshi subtly introduces us to one of his most perceptive, devoted and beloved students, David Chadwick, Suzuki's almost invisible biographer. 4 of 4 people found this review helpful. Was this review helpful to you?


Written with genuine heart and insight.

Reviewer: from Oakland, CA

August 14, 1999

A true treasure of a read and genuineness in a look at a loved teacher and friend who taught the genuine dharma to a few fortunates to be with him and many others through "Zen Mind Beginners Mind." However or whatever you study, if truth in life is your way, don't miss this. Was this review helpful to you?


A rich, warm, down-to-earth picture of Suzuki-roshi 

Reviewer: A reader from Norman, Oklahoma

July 28, 1999

David Chadwick's biography of Shunryu Suzuki is a warm, generous, and down-to-earth portrait of one of America's Zen patriarchs. David was a long-time student of Suzuki-roshi's and knew him well from firsthand experience. In addition, he went through the archives at San Francisco Zen Center and interviewed many people in Japan and America who knew Suzuki well. The result is a warm close-up of Suzuki's life and teaching. David gives us a picture of a human being, faults included, who never fails to appeal to us on the broadest level of a human being who was as fulfilled in his calling as one can hope to be. He appeals to us as much through his flaws and his basic humanity as he does through his teaching and wisdom. "Crooked Cucumber" gives us an immediate and direct view of a life‹ and death‹ well-lived. I was fortunate to be a student of Suzuki-roshi's in the mid 1960s and early '70-s. After reading David's biography I felt that I had had a refreshing walk with my old friend and teacher. He was an important teacher in American Zen Buddhism, one who had a significant influence not only on his students and disciples, but on thousands of people who never knew him. "Crooked Cucumber" gives us a fresh glimpse not only into Suzuki-roshi's life, but into his zen mind and his everyday mind, which are timeless and cannot be separated. I am very grateful for this book Was this review helpful to you?


Almost too good for words.

Reviewer: A reader from Alabama, USA

July 7, 1999

I've already said too much, but can't help it. This book entertained, moved, occupied, and taught me. Mr. Chadwick is a gift to all of us, and showed me what a Treasure Suzuki-roshi was to this country's spirit. Thank you. Was this review helpful to you?


Just a really great book

Reviewer: Larry Hettinger from Dayton, Ohio

June 27, 1999

I liked this book very much for a lot of reasons. Perhaps the things I liked about it the best are (in no particular order):

The writing style is warm and accessible, you get a strong sense of presence not just with Suzuki but with all the key figures who are presented. Chadwick, though he was involved in so much of what went on in the latter history described in this book, maintains an admirable degree of transparency as an author. He has the voice of a gifted writer who doesn't take himself particularly seriously - something that is distressingly rare in gifted (and non-gifted) writers.

I also appreciated the fact that Suzuki was not presented as a some sort of god. Instead, Chadwick presents him to us as a real human being with occasional tendencies towards making mistakes or simply behaving like an actual human. It seems to me that in doing so the real greatness of Suzuki comes across much, much better. Indeed he seems all the more remarkable to me for it. Here is, in many respects, a normal man who forgets stuff, gets angry, etc. who nevertheless achieves remarkable things. I find this a lot more useful (and yes, inspiring) than reading about yet another "Mr./Ms. Perfect Spiritual Person" who bears no relation to me or my own flawed life.

Also, Chadwick does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of historical and situational context in his writing. This may be his greatest strength as a writer - the ability to get across the feel of a place, time, and situation. Check out Thank You and OK! for a really masterful example of this.

Finally, this book is damn funny in places. Humor, it seems to me, is central to American buddhism. Buddhism, like anything that people take very seriously (and we should) is always in danger of taking itself TOO seriously. Suzuki, and in turn Chadwick, keep Buddhism on its toes by poking fun at it every now and then. The story of Suzuki in the hamburger joint with one of his vegetarian disciples is a delightful example of this.

I read an awful lot of books about buddhism. Many of them are dry, dull, and fail to convey much of anything beyond the fact that a billion years of often esoteric philosophical thinking has gone into it. Some of them are excellent. However, Chadwick's two books are unique and uniquely excellent. They convey the rich depth and beauty of buddhism while at the same time celebrating its human side. They don't take themselves too seriously - they don't presume to have it all figured out - they just make buddhism human, and I can relate to them in a way that I can't relate to practically any other form of buddhist writing. 2 of 2 people found this review helpful. Was this review helpful to you?


a good read

Reviewer: Mark from Arkansas

April 22, 1999

This is an excellent book for anyone wanting insight into the life, times and teachings of a most extraordinary ordinary Zen master. Mixed in with the narrative of Suzuki's life are short passages (taken from interviews and tapes of Suzuki's talks) on his life and the teachings of Buddhism. The book includes several pages of wonderful black&white pictures, too. Chadwick's writing style is informal, very tell-it-like-it-is, without being too preachy, judgmental. Some paragraphs end rather abruptly seemingly without coming to a complete close, but I think many Zen lectures are like that. Chadwick paints a picture of a Zen master who was reverent, irreverent, paradoxical, compassionate, unbelieveably wise, very human, and very ordinary. Was this review helpful to you?


Thank you David!

Reviewer: from St.Louis

March 24, 1999

Anyone who has read Zen Mind Beginner's Mind already knows how important Shunryu Suzuki is to Zen. What a gift it is to have an insight into Shunryu's early years as a child , young monk and during the war years. I am speechless. Great book. Was this review helpful to you?


The book made me laugh and cry out loud.

Reviewer: david b. mcgrath from USA

March 21, 1999

Reading this wonderful book made the past time present. David Chadwick captured the man Shunryu Suzuki, and brought him alive again for me. Reading the story of his life I both laughed and cried out loud. Mr. Chadwick showed how this simple man transformed a generation, and generations to come. Was this review helpful to you?


Another "failure" by David Chadwick

Reviewer: from Portland, Maine

February 18, 1999

In stereotypical Zen fashion, I don't wish to say too much about this book. I'd hate to spoil any portion of it for anyone. But please read this book.

If you have already read the author's previous book, Thank You and OK, you already know what an excellent writer David Chadwick can be when he is poking fun at himself. (If you haven't read Thank You and OK, then please go get that book, too.) I was frankly surprised at what an excellent historian Mr. Chadwick was, when it came time to write entirely seriously, about someone else. Especially Suzuki, Roshi. I was a little nervous that this book might contain the type of gushing praise that has tended to be heaped upon deceased Buddhist teachers in America. But Crooked Cucumber offers a very balanced view of Suzuki Roshi, including not only stories that inspire one's admiration for the man, but also anecdotes that cause one to scratch one's head and wonder why he could be so infuriatingly fallible at times. As a result, I felt I could trust Chadwick's scholarship, and I wound up with a much more mature appreciation for this Zen "legend."

I have already said way too much. But I predict that Crooked Cucumber will wind up being regarded as one of the best Buddhist books ever written.

An Over-Glorified Account 

Reviewer: Craig C. Brandau from Los Angeles, CA 

April 16, 2000

Although David Chadwick doesn't claim to be a historian, it would have been nice if he presented an objective account of Suzuki rather than merely singing the praises of his teacher. I was truly interested in learning more about Suzuki, but Chadwick's poor writing style and lack of objectivity forced me to put the book down halfway through. 

[Notice how I put this review last even though it's on top in the reviews. I know I'm prejudiced, but really, where on earth is this person coming from?-DC]

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