Bride of the Buddha

Written by Barbara McHugh
Review by Susan McDuffie

5th century BCE: Prince Siddhartha abandons his wife and his infant son, departing his palace and his life of royal ease to undertake a quest for supreme wisdom. Siddhartha eventually becomes the Buddha, the Awakened One. That story is well known; certainly, all Buddhist practitioners have heard the tale. But what of those he left behind?

This luminous novel tells the story of Yasodhara, the Buddha’s wife. The story begins with her early girlhood and first confrontation with death, and guilt. The young maiden experiences joy and the sensual pleasures of life upon her marriage to the handsome Prince Siddhartha, and later faces the impermanence of these. Eventually, Yasodhara undertakes her own spiritual pilgrimage. Her quest parallels that of her husband, now known as the enlightened one, the Tathagatha. This re-imagining of how things might have been is skillfully interwoven with other tales and figures from the early Buddhist canon, most particularly the story of Ananda, the Buddha’s faithful companion and attendant.

McHugh envisions a life for Yasodhara that will resonate with spiritual seekers, feminists, and other readers as well. Lovely, poetic prose illuminates this novel of the historical Buddha, his wife, and his followers. McHugh gives elegant new voice and form to this ancient story, telling the story from a female’s unique perspective, and in doing so creates a fresh tale that will both entertain and inspire readers. Recommended.