As a child in 1950s Czechoslovakia, Caldecott Honor-winning artist Peter Sís would listen to mysterious tales of Tibet, "the roof of the world." The narrator, oddly enough, was his father--a documentary filmmaker who had been separated from his crew, caught in a blizzard, and (according to him, anyway) nursed back to health by gentle Yetis. Young Sís learned of a beautiful land of miracles and monks beset by a hostile China; of the 14th Dalai Lama, a "Boy-God-King"; and of "a magic palace with a thousand rooms--a room for every emotion and heart's desire." Hearing these accounts--some extravagant but all moving--helped the boy recover from an accident. The stories also allowed Sís's father to relate an odyssey other adults didn't seem to want to know about in cold war Czechoslovakia. "He told me, over and over again, his magical stories of Tibet, for that is where he had been. And I believed everything he said," Sís recalls. Still, after some time he too seemed to become immune, and the stories "faded to a hazy dream." With Tibet: Through the Red Box
Sís finally pays tribute to this fantastical experience, illustrating key pages from his father's diary with complex, color-rich images
of mazes, mountains, and mandalas. He also produces pictures of his family at home--simple, monochromatic images that are just as haunting as their Himalayan counterparts. In one, a wistful mother and two children gather around a Christmas tree, the absent father appearing as a featureless silhouette. Tibet
is a treasure for the eyes and heart. Some will ask: Is it for children or adults? Others will wonder: Is it a work of art or a storybook? One of the many things that this book makes us realize is that such classifications are entirely (and happily) unnecessary. (Click to see a sample spread
. Illustrations copyright ©1998 by Peter Sís. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.) --Kerry Fried
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.