2013 Short Fiction Award Winner
selected by Kate Bernheimer
5.5 x 8.5″ 16 pgs, photograph affixed to Kraft paper cover
“If you recite The Great Compassion Mantra with sincerity,” the nuns told Ching, “you can cure any illness.”
Death is inescapable; but young Ching believes that the magic of The Great Compassion Mantra can keep death at bay for her ill father. Ching grows up in a Buddhist temple, learns to recite a mantra by heart and believes, as her teachers have told her, that The Great Compassion Mantra can perform miracles.
From speed-reciting contests to her inability to boil water with chants, Ching’s relationship with mantras seems at times ridiculous; at other times, candidly sincere. We follow Ching’s journey of struggle as she comes to terms with not only the reality of death but also with her faith as well.
The narrative illuminates the agonizing fear and deep-felt emotions of loss and the only thing that Ching can hold on to: faith. Even though Ching clings to the mantra, her father’s last words continue to guilt-trip and haunt her. “To Boil Water” is a story about loss, faith and how to live in the present with an everlasting and over-looming past.
Praise for To Boil Water
“To Boil Water” is so iconoclastic, so elliptical and so very mystic—I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. This story channels Yoko Ono via Franny Glass; it’s a prayer: an occult and traditional meditation on loss that lives in the past and future at once. I found myself reading it over and over again, as if I myself were alive inside of its words—this story contains eerie wisdom. I admire the author’s direct engagement with words. The story has a concrete, tale-like abstraction, expressed with the handmade quality of careful hushed phrases.” —Kate Bernheimer, judge
“Myha Do’s “To Boil Water” is about our helplessness in the face of time’s wear upon the body. It is the story of the Buddhist nun Ching, who wants to save her dying father. Do’s fiction is subtle, observant, and often very funny. In this short piece Do tarries with some of the most difficult questions—what does it mean to respond to the call of the loved one? Can one accept mortality and still have faith? With time constantly propelling us forward, toward what inevitably will have been, how to live in the present?” — Angela Hume, author of The Middle (Omnidawn)
“The rituals of life and the inevitability of death are at the forefront of Myha Do’s short story, “To Boil Water,” in which a young Buddhist nun does everything she believes is in her power to save her dying father. Here, hope and spirituality clash with science and fact, and what results is a story both challenging and moving. I’m looking forward to seeing what Myha Do writes next.” —Lysley Tenorio, author of Monstress.
“Myha Do’s “To Boil Water” took my breath away. In it a young nun, Ching, repeatedly recites The Great Compassion Mantra hoping to stop her father’s inevitable decline. This beautifully brief story perfectly captures a daughter’s frantic devotion to her dying father and to her Buddhist faith. I’m so pleased to see Myha’s talent recognized by the Kore Prize. As one of her MFA advisors I can say with authority that there’s more where this came from.” —Rosemary Graham, Author of Stalker Girl and other novels