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Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
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 naive 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Prizewinning British author French does not allow his compassion for the long-suffering people of Tibet to cloud his sharp perceptions or derail his quest for facts and his commitment to telling the truth, however painful. And there is a great deal of pain in this finely woven blend of travelogue, reportage, and political analysis. In recounting his difficult journey across Tibet in 1999, he still shudders over the risks people took to speak with him, a foreigner and "known activist," then skillfully connects today's perils with the horrific, still festering wounds of Mao's reign of madness. French offers a taut and compelling overview of Tibet's past, but it is his conversations with Tibetans who have survived conquest, persecution, starvation, imprisonment, and torture that make this book so searing. French unflinchingly chronicles the aberrant crimes of the Communists then castigates the West for the superficiality of its trendy approach to Tibet's fight for freedom. Compelling in its shocking details, fictionlike in its narrative grace, and bracing in its frankness, French's portrait of Tibet is invaluable. Donna Seaman
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Top customer reviews
After years of idealizing the remote land and its culture and inhabitants, Mr. French (a Tibetophile and former head of a Free Tibet organization) finally allows his powers of perception to override preconceptions based on an archtype lodged deep within the recesses of his Western psyche. The conclusions he comes to (via investigation and a great deal of research) are sobering, if not chilling.
What makes this book exceptional is its layers and levels. There's a lot of information here (I read it twice) and it makes for a very unique travel narrative. Think Tibetans are a non-violent people? Read their history. Believe Buddhists to be a sagacious lot of semi-divine beings? Think again. Western leaders are going to stand up to China any day now, aren't they? The author provides us with an overview of their sorry efforts to date. Not even the Dalai Lama, who French interviews (and deeply respects) is exempt from the writer's newly found (compassionate) scrutiny. This is a vastly engaging book; one that says as much about China as Tibet and the odd, uninformed way the West views the world.
Troy Parfitt, author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
Tibet was once a place of remoteness to Westerners; today, it seems all too familiar to them, at least superficially. Its spiritual leader, its religion, and even some of its fashions are now widely recognized by many Europeans and Americans. Celebrities seem to fall hard for its causes. As a long-time advocate for Tibet, French, in some ways, assisted in this process and his book is something of a reassessment in how he looks at the place that is at once so familiar to many, yet remains widely misunderstood.
"Tibet, Tibet" is ostensibly about French's return to the Himalayan land to rediscover the place and people that have fascinated him since his teenage years. But along with personal observations made while traveling, he mixes in a good deal of Tibetan history, interviews with both prominent and unknown Tibetans, and, of course, large sections on the country that has dominated Tibet for most of the modern era: China. French writes in a discursive style, occasionally returning to subjects he has already covered to further elaborate on them.
The author is a man approaching middle-age who is revising his youthful views on Tibet and making the inevitable mental compromises that the young do not make. But this is not an angry repudiation or even mournful elegy of his former views; this is a mature work. While his love for Tibet and its people are still obvious, French now seems to realize that many of the causes he once advocated are so far removed from the reality that Tibetans must deal with everyday that those causes have become unhelpful to them.
This is not to say that French seeks to downplay what has happened to the Tibetans. His descriptions of what the Chinese (as well as the British and Americans) have done to Tibet are about as subtle as a punch to the stomach. But he now knows that the destinies of Tibet and China are tied together, and that it no longer makes sense to speak of a "Free Tibet" without speaking of a "Free China".