TIBET, TIBET: A Personal History of a Lost Land

Patrick French, Author . Knopf $25 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4100-8

French first encountered the Dalai Lama as an English schoolboy, sparking a deep interest that led to his leadership of the Free Tibet Campaign. But after the 1999 journey recounted in this travel memoir and political history, he's pessimistic about whether outside agitation does anything other than harden the hearts of the occupying Chinese government. The grim depiction of a people living under "constant mental supervision" offers little hope, implicitly suggesting Tibet can never be free unless China is free as well. Though every interview is potentially life-threatening for the Tibetans, they share powerful stories of the abuse they suffered during the Cultural Revolution. (And amazingly, the author manages to walk right into the hospital room of a former political leader.) The historical sections have much to say about the invasion of Tibet in 1950 and subsequent atrocities, but also describe the horrors that befell the rest of China, including widespread cannibalism throughout the 1960s. Its assessment of modern Western attitudes toward Tibet is harsh, lambasting naïve activists and would-be Buddhists for "Dalaidolatry" and ignorance about the country. And despite his great personal admiration for the Dalai Lama, French criticizes his political blunders that ruined possible reconciliations with the Chinese government, leading up to an interview with the Dalai Lama depicted with both reverence and disappointment. Colorful stories about previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama and examples of badly written signs throughout the country (e.g., "THERE ARE KINDS OF BEVERAGES") provide momentary relief from the brutality, without diminishing the impact of this starkly realistic portrait of a land that has become a shadow of its former self. Maps. (Oct. 21)

Reviewed on: 08/25/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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