At the Heart of the Universe At the Heart of the Universe (2016)

The story of two mothers and a father in love with the same daughter, Samuel Shem’s At the Heart of the Universe is an epic novel set deep in rural China against the backdrop of an ancient mountain monastery during the time of the one-child-per-family policy. Inspired by the author’s experiences as parent of an adopted child, it describes the drama of adoption and the journey of loss and rebirth that can happen when a daughter brings together her adopted mother and father with her birth mother high on a mountaintop.

Set in 1991 in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, as a Chinese woman abandons her one-month-old daughter in a pile of celery in a busy market, and then shifting to Changsha ten years later as the daughter returns with her adopted American parents, the story moves across southern China until, high atop Emei San, one of China’s “sacred mountains” with a Buddhist temple, the four are brought together in the wilderness—a perilous and explosive time that unleashes their heartbreak and suffering and, remarkably, transcends it to shared compassion, and new beginnings.

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The Buddha's Wife THE BUDDHA’S WIFE (2015)

It is said that The Buddha, on the morning of his only child’s birth, left his wife and son to “go forth” to seek enlightenment, without saying goodbye. What do we know of his wife Yasodhara and his son Rahula?

The Buddha’s Wife brings this rarely told story of Yasodhara—”She who stays”—and her community, to the forefront, offering a spiritual parable and portrait of these compelling and compassionate characters. The Readers Companion offers practical applications of their discoveries and teachings for our modern lives.

Princess Yasodhara’s journey is one of loss, grief, suffering. and the growth of wisdom and compassion. Through it, she experiencees her own awakening within the deep bonds of community and “ordinary” relationships. While traditional Buddhism emphasizes solitary, silent meditation, even in the presence of others, Yasodhara’s experiences point to the Path of Right Relation, of opening and cultivating insight and compassion in community. Awakening not alone, but together with others.

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spiritwork THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE (2008) From the first line–“Even a shy American can be happy in Italy, and Orville Rose was about as happy as a childless man can be”–this is a novel of love and death, of mothers and sons, of doctors and patients, and, above all, of “The Spirit of the Place”, a quirky small Hudson River town “plagued by breakage”–a novel filled with the ineffable “Shem-humor” and pointed insight and drama. Dr. Orville Rose returns to visit his hometown of “Columbia” upon the death of his mother. Despite being in love with a Buddhist yoga teacher in Italy, he is forced by the bizarre terms of his mother’s will to stay for a year and 13 days, and, seeing the declining health of his mentor, the old doctor, winds up working as the doctor to the town he had fled, facing his past friends and demons, challenged to find understanding, love, and a home. Read More >
houseofgod THE HOUSE OF GOD (1978)

“Bawdy, blistering… This is Catch 22 with stethescopes.” -Cosmopolitan

The outrageously funny, bitingly brilliant novel of Dr.
Basch’s training to be a doctor in a hospital called ‘The House of God.’ The
story of survival, heartache, love, death and sex–a novel called “an
American classic,” “one of the two most significant American medical novels
of the 20th century,” “The book to read about becoming a doctor,”
“Rabelaisian,” and “a small masterpiece.”

Read the new introduction by John Updike!


mountmisery MOUNT MISERY (1996) “Outrageously funny, a sage and important novel by a healer and a Shakespearean”-Boston Globe The sequel to THE HOUSE OF GOD, Dr. Basch entering his training to be a psychiatrist at a large mental hospital called “Mount Misery.” The same outrageous humor, gut-wrenching drama, love and death, as Roy seaches to become not just a doctor but a healer-a novel called “another medical classic,” “outrageously funny, a sage and important novel by a healer and a Shakespearean,” “supberbly incisive and witty, a carnival of fascinating secrets and terrible abuses.”
fine FINE (1985)

“Funny…Full of dazzling, zany intelligence…energetic and exuberant.” – New York Times

The story of Dr. Fine, a young man learning to be the complete psychiatrist: doing scientific research on memory (teaching grasshoppers to lift their legs and eat calcium pills), becoming a psychoanalyst, caught up in a mystery involving a killer patient, and, above all, trying to find the answer to two questions: “What is love?” and “How do people change?”–“Exhilarating, a glittering gemstone, dazzling,” “full of dazzling, zany intelligence,” “a story filled with metaphysical overtones,” “a rolicking journey of self-discovery and love.”