A Chant To Soothe Wild Elephants

Six years ago at the age of twenty-one, Jaed Muncharoen Coffin, a half-Thai American man, left New England’s privileged Middlebury College to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in his mother’s native village of Panomsarakram—thus fulfilling a familial obligation. While addressing the notions of displacement, ethnic identity, and cultural belonging, A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants chronicles his time at the temple that rain season—receiving alms in the streets in saffron robes; bathing in the canals; learning to meditate in a mountaintop hut; and falling in love with Lek, a beautiful Thai woman who comes to represent the life he can have if he stays. Part armchair travel, part coming-of-age story, this debut work transcends the memoir genre and ushers in a brave new voice in American nonfiction.

“Jaed Coffin takes us on the eternal quest which Joseph Campbell described as the journey of the hero in search of enlightenment. But A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants is also a touching memoir of growing up in dual cultures with a foot in both First and Third Worlds. Coffin takes us inside those worlds and on that quest with such honesty, skill, humor, and intimacy that we can’t help but follow. A rare look into a culture from an insider/outsider’s point of view.” — Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

“A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants has the kind of hard, shimmering, simple prose that set Hemingway apart as a writer to watch in his first book of stories. Jaed Coffin is not only a writer to watch, however. As he demonstrates in this lively memoir, he’s a writer who has already achieved that rare thing: a singular voice, and one that satisfies the ear with its quiet music, that feeds the eye with image after image of life.” — Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life

Reading at Stonecoast MFA