cover image Tibet Through the Red Box

Tibet Through the Red Box

Peter Sis. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37552-2

In this visually enticing, magically appealing, oversized volume, Czechoslovakian-born illustrator Sis applies his considerable gifts to painting a spellbinding portrait of his father's experiences in Tibet, where he was sent in the 1950s to instruct the Chinese in documentary filmmaking. Vladimir Sis was actually drafted by the Chinese government to record the construction of a highway from China into Tibet; he was to be gone more than two years, unable to communicate with his family. During that time, China invaded the neighboring country, and Sis senior witnessed events he dared not describe even after he returned home, except through ""magical stories"" he related to his son. The diary he kept during his sojourn in Tibet was locked in a red box, which his son only saw for the first time in 1994, when he received a cryptic message from his father: ""The diary is now yours."" Here Sis re-creates a facsimile of the diary with excerpts handwritten upon parchment-like backgrounds on double-page spreads brimming with pencil sketches of the events described (e.g., ""The road looks like a cut into a beautiful cake""). He then magnifies the more uncanny aspects of the journal via the tales told to him by his father, recollected from childhood, which are printed on the succeeding spread. One entry describes a boy wearing bells who tracks down the filmmaker in the middle of nowhere to deliver a letter from his family; Sis then follows with ""The Jingle-Bell Boy,"" festooning the account with a trail of rhododendron-leaf markings that lead his father ultimately to the Dalai Lama. The guileless prose of both father and son makes Sis's juxtaposition of the journal records with his own childhood memories all the more poignant. The luminous colors of the artwork, the panoramas of Tibetan topography and the meticulous intermingling of captivating details and the mystical aspects of Tibetan culture make this an extraordinary volume that will appeal to readers of all ages. Author tour. (Nov.)