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Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero Hardcover – January 18, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Eric Swanson on Escape from the Land of Snows

Eric Swanson is co-author of the New York Times bestselling The Joy of Living and Joyful Wisdom.

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.

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing from written eyewitness accounts and interviews with survivors, Talty (The Illustrious Dead) describes the events in 1959 that irrevocably altered the future of Tibet. He skillfully moves between protests in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama's escape toward the border, tracing stories of the many people involved. Adding complexity to this narrative are details about CIA support of Tibetans fighting against the Chinese regime, the U.S. role in securing permission for the Dalai Lama's entry into India, and the worldwide media frenzy that shaped the public's perceptions of Tibet. Witness reports include those of the Dalai Lama's mother and brothers, rebels and refugees, members of the CIA's Tibetan Task Force, and former prisoners of the Chinese. From these multiple voices the author has woven a vivid picture of a dangerous journey and a country in crisis. The accompanying analysis provides context for the intricate events that changed the young leader into a "movable Tibet," and an isolated mountain society into an international cause and "a place of the mind." (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307460959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307460950
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,379,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Silverstone VINE VOICE on January 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Unfortunately, the West suffers from a bumper sticker jingoist view of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The author Stephen Talty has focused on one point in time, the 1959 flight of the Dalai Lama (and a large number of other Tibetans) to India, but to the author's credit in this highly readable tome, he has set the context in Tibetan history. This allows the author to produce a concise story that is further supplemented by maps (it would have been good, for a few more place names to be located on them), notes, a short glossary, and bibliography. Although we often hear the story of Tibet in a black and white, forces of good vs. evil, Talty has done an admirable job to show the complexity of the story and issues involved. He also describes how the West developed (and continues to foster) a highly romanticized view of Tibet based on a few early 20th century journalists and, of course, James Hilton iconic novel. Lost Horizon, The truth about Tibet is much more complicated, and Talty does not shy away from describing the bad (feudal society, deeply superstitious) with good. Another aspect of the story that few people know, is the CIA's role in assisting the Dalai Lama in his escape and their continued support for 10 years after that of the Tibetan rebels. In this book, we see the forces and situations that change the 14th Dalai Lama, from an isolated monk to the beginnings of a world leader. We also get a glimpse through numerous personal stories, the views of the individual Tibetans - aristocrats and commoners - about the world and the changes that were being thrust on them. Reading this book, will give you a nuanced view that may not answer all your questions, but will certainly help you appreciate the back stories behind the news.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The history of Tibet and its relationship with China is outlined in this account of the Dalai Lama's exile during the uprising in 1959. While the writing wasn't exceptional, the subject was well researched and gave a good background of the political climate of the region at the time. China asserted its authority over Tibet, but there was resistance by the deeply religious people who did not want to be ruled by communists despite the progress and modernization they brought to the isolated nation. The unrest that lead to full out rebellion in Lhasa in 1959 resulted in the slaughter of thousands of innocent Tibetans and the exile of the Dalai Lama to India. Prior to reading this, I was unaware of the CIA's role in attempting to suppress communism by aiding the rebels in Tibet. There were numerous interviews and quotes from participants in the uprising, monks and civilians, individuals who were working with the Americans, and the Dalai Lama and his family. I thought the epilogue was especially effective. The author concludes the book with his own narrative of his trip to Lhasa fifty years after the fateful date that demoralized Tibet. Talty illustrated the paranoia among the Tibetans, especially in the presence of so many Han Chinese and PLA troops. More than anything, though, there was a pervading sadness among the people at the absence of the Dalai Lama. Though these events helped bring awareness to Tibet's plight and made His Holiness an international figure, the despondency of the Tibetans is palpable and unfortunate.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a real-life adventure story, this book has potential -- a frightened and innocent adolescent narrowly escapes a murderous and cruel gang of government thugs, in an exotic backdrop of a place and culture few outsiders will ever experience, with some obscure Cold War intrigue thrown in. The book then provides insight into one of the modern world's most deservedly beloved figures and how this person began to grow into that role. Talty makes a good case that fellow journalists, not government officials, first brought the 1959 Tibetan massacre to public attention. The author writes reasonably well, tells a compelling story, writes with a "you-are-there" voice which makes you want to believe what he says, asks many of the right questions, wisely avoids detouring into Tibet's religious systems, and seems quite objective in assessing the complex historical relationships between the Chinese and the Tibetans (although he makes no secret of his disgust with the astonishing barbarity of the Han Chinese, and gives a depressing picture of a government which has become a world power). Clearly, the Tibetans were surprised by their nightmare, and the Dalai Lama and his inner circle had no choice but to take the arduous trek out of their beloved homeland. Talty reports this was all the more disheartening because so many Tibetans had/have a reverence for the Dalai Lama which postmodern Westerners can scarcely imagine for any of our recent leaders.

Many people treasure the Dalai Lama's apparently reassuring, decent presence. This book reminds us not to take it for granted -- the Dalai Lama could easily have been murdered or imprisoned without a trace, or "re-educated," as many other Tibetan monks and nuns were.
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Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this book pretty much explains it all: It's a book that describes the life of the current Dalai Lama, with particular attention paid to the historical events of 1951 - 1959, when the Chinese incorporated Tibet into their newly-formed republic after a one-sided military conflict. I knew almost nothing about these events, so it was educational for me. The author is obviously sympathetic to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people (the people whose lives the author incorporates into the narrative are almost all Tibetan) but in spite of that fact I felt as though he did a reasonable job being objective when objectivity was called for. For instance, the author points out that not since the 7th century has Tibet been a fully-independent, unified country, and therefore the question of whether the Chinese "invaded" Tibet (versus simply having brutally asserted their control) is a matter of some debate (albeit a somewhat semantic one). He also pulls no punches in describing the inhumanity of the traditional Tibetan caste-system that rendered some Tibetans slaves to their fellow countrymen. Finally, he paints an honest picture of Tibetan society in the pre-Chinese occupation era - a society rife with nepotism, inefficiencies, and impracticalities. At the end of the day, however, the author is pretty clear about stating that the Tibetan people got royally-screwed by the Chinese...because, of course they did - no matter which way you slice it. I was rooting for the Dalai Lama, and that's a good thing, because (in case you've been hiding under a rock for the past fifty years) he got away. Even if the outcome was a foregone conclusion, the story of his escape was something I had never heard about, and it makes a compelling read. Incidentally, the narrator for this audio-book was excellent.
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