‘Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a Multimedia Memoir’ by Ryan Chin (Portland, Oregon: SolChin Media Group, 2011).
I came across this book almost by accident, at an evening get together of members of the Oregon Writers’ Colony. We each brought copies of our books to display, and swapped—his Without Rain for my Big Dogs of Tibet and the Himalayas (two dog books about as unalike as you can imagine). From the first page of his book, I was hooked (but I have no idea how he reacted to mine.)
Author Ryan Chin calls his book “A teacher’s journey to a Maori village launched by the death of his dog.” When his dog Toughy died, it left a large hole in Ryan’s heart and his life. (A photo of the dog’s grave is on the book cover.) Chin’s memoir takes us from the USA, where he buried his dog and left behind his girlfriend Lori, to a temporary new life in New Zealand. There, in Raupunga, a village of Maori indigenes, he finds work as a school teacher and immerses himself in a life fully dedicated to a class full of children. In the background of his new life, he discovers the dark side of Maori gang warfare, which poses a constant threat to himself and to the safety of the youngsters he teaches. On days off he goes fishing or surfing, or tries his hand, at home, at some pretty exotic cooking, feeling all the while his loneliness and grief at the loss of Toughy, while pursuing his quest to win the love of Lori, an ocean away.
The dog theme, running cleverly like a thread through the book, started with Toughy and picks up speed when “Mistah Chnn”, as the Maori children call him, adopts a stray dog named Big Head, and a cat named Beatis. This combination of pet friends challenges Ryan to successfully mediate often fractious canine/kitty relations.
Ryan Chin writes with insight and subtle humor. In one passage, for example, he tries to explain how “Dog names always morph into an endless array of nick-names. They’re used frequently, so saying them one hundred different ways makes sense. Toughy’s Latin name was Tough-is Doggis, so Big Head will be Biggus Headis.” Even his hapless momma cat gets into the ‘what’s-in-a-name’ word play: “Beatis’s name is in real Latin,” he writes. It’s “a family of mayflies that trout love to eat.”
At the end of his year’s tenure in the Maori school, Ryan packs up and heads back to the States, taking Big Head and Beatis with him into a new life. Once there he gets back together with Lori and…, well, I’m not a spoiler, so you’ll have to read this heart-warming memoir to find out how the book’s several themes – dogs (and cats), school teaching, and the long distance love story – all end.
In a brief Foreword to the book, Chin introduces Without Rain as “A Multimedia Memoir”. He explains that where a monitor icon appears in the margin of the book, a video clip accompanies the story. There are 24 short videos that add both visual and audio accents to the written story. The videos were shot during his sojourn in New Zealand, and since. “The videos,” he writes, “are meant to be viewed between the lines as you are reading… with the goal of building on the ideas, emotions, or images presented in the text.” They act as a window into the culture of New Zealand and into Chin’s own life and adventures.
Wherever this symbol of a monitor appears, you are nudged to look up the relevant video on YouTube, Vimeo, or at http://www.withoutrain.com. It is a unique way to more fully comprehend the writer’s story, his craft and his creativity.
For a recent tribute to ‘Big Head’, Ryan’s dog, go to http://thechinproject.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/ten-years-ago-i-met-a-yellow-lab/?preview=true&preview_id=1385&preview_nonce=8ffa17511b