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Stephan Talty’s Escape from the Land of Snows gripped me from its opening image-–that of a lonely, frightened twenty-three year-old man pacing the gilded cage of a palace garden outside Lhasa--through its final, haunting scenes, which show the Tibetan capital fifty years after the uprising that compelled the young Dalai Lama to escape his homeland in the face of a brutal crackdown by Chinese government forces. This meticulously researched book weaves together strands from a wide array of sources to provide an extraordinarily vivid and compelling picture of a labyrinth of events-–from CIA schemes, to assassination attempts, to kidnapping plots, to the callous and calculating debates of Cold War politics, to shattering betrayals of Tibetan government figures–-swirling around a young man confronting a destiny for which no amount of spiritual or political training could prepare him.
While the outlines of the story are generally known, what fascinated me most was the immediacy that Talty brings to the telling. I felt I was right there, watching the emotional and spiritual transformation of a child plucked from obscurity to become an international icon. Who knew that the Dalai Lama had an early reputation for being headstrong and hot-tempered? That the “palace” where he lived during his early years was cold, drafty, and rat-infested? That discipline was enforced on him, not by a threat to his physical person, but by beatings his younger brother would receive? (The image of a whip hanging on a wall in his room is just one of many haunting details that stayed with me long past the final chapter, a vivid reminder that at an age when most of us are learning rudimentary social skills along with our ABC’s, the Dalai Lama was impressed with the real-life understanding that his least word or action would have consequences for other people). His innocence during his first meeting with Mao-–his willingness to believe the best about people-–is heart-wrenching, as are the excruciating betrayals and the heroic, against-all-odds choices of the bands of supporters and resistance fighters who lead him ultimately to understand that the only way to save his people is to leave them. The agony behind the Dalai Lama’s choice is palpable, unfolding moment by moment against a background of rumors, mysterious oracular pronouncements, and frustrated attempts to communicate with rebel forces and foreign governments.
On every page I could feel the tension rising as the citizens of the capital, alarmed by rumors that the Dalai Lama may shortly be killed or kidnapped, flood the streets to protect him against the mounting threat of increasingly violent Chinese armed forces. I found myself holding my breath as hurried plans to escape in disguise, by night, were stitched together and carried out-–a gamble so desperate it could seem like something out of a spy novel, except that Talty never lets us forget for a moment that every moment was terrifyingly real. Nor does the tension let up during the account of the Dalai Lama’s perilous trek across the highest mountains of the world, pursued by troops and plagued by hunger, freezing temperatures, disease, and an uncertain reception at the end of the journey. Yet it is during this epic flight that the transformation of the young Dalai Lama’s character-–through stages of exhilaration, fear, anger, despair, and finally, exhausted yet triumphant relief-–feels most intensely personal. Escape from the Land of Snows is biography at its best: suspenseful, revealing, and profoundly humane.
Nice to understand the events leading up to the release of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. Writing is okay, but not great. Still, once it got going, it held my interest.Published 15 months ago by Jennifer A. Paris
Although I am a huge fan of the Dalai Lama and read many of his books and books by other authors about him, I just couldn't get into this book. Read morePublished on April 5, 2013 by Jeannie Mancini
Before reading this book, I knew very little about the Dalai Lama and the story of his escape from Tibet. I enjoyed reading this fast moving page turner of a book. Read morePublished on March 28, 2013 by Andy Wallace
This book basically is a novel, pretending to be history. His holiness this his holiness that. Face it, that old monk is like anybody else. Read morePublished on September 4, 2012 by John M.
The Dalai Lama barely escaped Tibet in 1959 and the story is stirringly told via eyewitnesses in this account by Stephan Talty. Read morePublished on March 16, 2012 by Lynn Ellingwood
...still you read.
It was interesting to read how secluded the Dalai Lama was, from his people, from his family, from the rest of the world. Read more
This book traces the history of "modern" Tibet from the acension to the throne of the 14th Dalai Lama, to the much more modern Lhasa of today. Read morePublished on February 25, 2012 by Carioca56
I like how this starts at the beginning, from the family life and early events of the Young Dalai Lama and how he was discovered. Read morePublished on January 19, 2012 by Christine K. Cornett-McVay
I don't generally like books that have to have a cast of characters at the beginning of them, but this book was interesting and had excellent, simply writing that made it very... Read morePublished on January 11, 2012 by Emily