THE DALAI LAMA by Alexander Norman


An Extraordinary Life
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A biography of the famed spiritual leader who has lived through complex and contentious times.

British journalist Norman (Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama: The Untold Story of the Holy Men Who Shaped Tibet, From Pre-History to the Present Day, 2010, etc.), who has collaborated with the Dalai Lama on three books, including his autobiography, brings well-grounded authority to his portrayal of a figure revered throughout the world for his joyfulness, generosity, and compassion. Born in 1935, Tenzin Gyatso was identified as the 14th Dalai Lama when he was 2 years old, on the basis of several miraculous occurrences and the child’s demonstration of occult power. Although the author acknowledges that “the skeptical reader will doubtless see this whole account as a classic example of myth-making,” he underscores the Buddhist perspective that “the way things really are” does not depend on empirical verification. Norman vividly depicts the “enchanted” world from which the Dalai Lama emerged, where “every feature of the landscape and every creature dwelling within it falls under the aegis of some sprite or spirit or deity.” Rich in spirituality, Tibet nevertheless was a poor, isolated country. As the Dalai Lama grew up, though focused intensively on his spiritual education, he came to realize that social, political, and material reforms were urgently needed. At 14, he met a foreigner for the first time: a 33-year-old Austrian mountaineer who became his informal tutor, responding to the “boundlessly curious” young man’s many questions about the Western world. Norman lucidly traces the Dalai Lama’s spiritual and academic education, his growing awareness of the internal and external political conflicts that threatened Tibet, and his reluctant decision to go into exile when China invaded the country. At 24, when he led 80,000 Buddhists into India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru found him “exasperatingly naïve.” The Precious Protector, as he was known, gradually evolved into an astute, occasionally controversial, leader, resolute in his harsh dealings with dissent among rival schools within the Buddhist tradition and eventually renouncing his efforts for Tibet’s independence.

A sturdy, comprehensive look at the Dalai Lama and his tumultuous world.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-544-41658-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2019