Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Escape from the Land of Snows

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual HeroStephan Talty has created a mesmerizing account of the events around the escape of His Holiness from the Chinese Occupation of Tibet.  It expertly traces the background and decision making process of the Tibetan hierarchy that lead led to the eventual evacuation of the Norbulingka Palace and Lhasa.  He wraps us in the stories of several individual's narratives from Athar Norbu, a Khampa guerilla turned CIA operative responsible for keeping the US informed of events in Tibet to Ngawang Thondup Markyid, a monk that served as a high official on the Council of Lhasa.  The insights into the various aspects was wonderful,  you feel there devotion, fear, and uncertainty as the events unfold around them.  Talty describes the role of the international press in creating then destructing the myths about Tibet.  He narrates  the trek through the mountains and its effects on the life of His Holiness resulting in his policy of interviewing every refuge that arrives in Dharamsala.   The book is a vivid account of this brief but turbulent and time in Tibetan history.  The events it describes have been retold in various form but I found this to be one of the most insightful and open interpretations of the Chinese Occupation.  A must read for anyone interested in the Tibetan culture and people.
The escape also force the Dalai Lama to think beyond Buddhism.  "His exile was huge in his life," says Paul Jeffrey Hopkins, a Tibet scholar and former interpreter for His Holiness.  "Without it, it would be very difficult for him to develop a message that is applicable to the entire world.  Instead of becoming someone who's trying to drive Buddhism forward,  he's attempting to call to everybody in society and thus address their need for kindness and compassion.  There would be no way for that to develop had he remained in Tibet."