Lhasa: Streets with Memories

Robert Barnett, Author
Robert Barnett, Author . Columbia Univ. $24.50 (219p) ISBN 978-0-231-13680-8
Reviewed on: 11/07/2005
Release date: 01/01/2006
Paperback - 219 pages - 978-0-231-13681-5
Ebook - 264 pages - 978-0-231-51011-0
Open Ebook - 244 pages - 978-1-282-89773-1
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A Columbia University lecturer in modern Tibetan studies who's taught at Tibet University and written extensively about Tibet, Barnett has no intention of explaining Tibet to anyone. After all, for more than a century, foreigners have described the Tibet they thought they knew, propagating either unwitting or deliberate misapprehensions. So it's with reluctance and some negativity ("Lhasa was not in every way an otherworldly place") that Barnett attempts "to scrape a little of the topsoil off the affective history of a city, Lhasa," to discover its "inner language." The book's chapters have loose themes—foreigners' views of Tibet, Lhasa's geomantic layout, evolving architectural styles—and are usually spliced with diary accounts from Barnett's visit during the 1987 protest riots. Much of the book contains passages Barnett wrote for other publications in other languages; now revised and translated, they produce an uneasy flow. The illustrations—edgy line drawings of unidentified and often unidentifiable subjects—ensure the generally obscure mood, as do the lack of a modern map of Lhasa or Tibet, or a clear drawing of the types of buildings Barnett describes. Alas, even patient readers, dutifully consulting the hefty endnotes and glossary, may give up before reaching the final five-page chapter, where Barnett finally speaks plainly about Lhasa's architecture. (Mar.)

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