Books by Heinrich Harrer

Released: June 1, 1998

A fusty, indignant report—dated 1983—from Tibet by Harrer (Seven Years in Tibet, not reviewed), the now-celebrated adventurer who briefly returned to his "second home" 30 years after fleeing China's invasion. In 1945 the Austrian author escaped from a British prisoner-of-war camp, hoofed it over the Trans-Himalayan range, and eventually arrived in Lhasa, capitol of Tibet. There he found what he took to be an idyll: a sublime mix of Tibetan Buddhism, ancient customs, and dust-free air that made landscape colors incandescent. He became an important figure in the country—chief engineer, tutor of the Dalai Lama—but left as the Chinese commenced their occupation. In 1982 he was able to revisit Tibet during the "Chinese-staged thaw," and he was by turns heartbroken and inspired by what he observed: Valuable cultural treasures had been destroyed by the invaders, and stories of concentration camps, forced labor, and political murders sent him reeling. Yet the country's religion was still strong, and there continued both armed resistance to the Chinese and an unquashable national will. His two sojourns in the country make for some intriguing before-and-after comparisons, and his comments on particulars of Tibetan Buddhism are revealing. But the tone of the book is dryly nostalgic, when not bitter, and Harrer's opinions sometimes seem jarringly contradictory. He rails against what the Chinese have done to the country—razing monasteries, imprisoning and killing nationals—and then inexplicably suggests that China and Tibet might be well served by a partnership, with Tibet happily becoming "part of that enormous yellow state." Moreover, every so often he lets the feudalist in him shine through unforgivably in making unfortunate remarks on his longing for a land "where superstition would be the poetry of life." The insights are worth the cover price anyhow, despite the author's occasional reactionary comments and his priggishness. Read full book review >