Memorable voices inform a penetrating, absorbing history.

EAT THE BUDDHA

LIFE AND DEATH IN A TIBETAN TOWN

A portrait of one town reveals Tibet's tragic past.

Demick, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as its bureau chief in Beijing and Seoul, offers a vibrant, often heartbreaking history of Tibet, centered on Ngaba, which sits at 11,000 feet on the plateau where Tibet collides with China. The author made three trips to the town beginning in 2013, and she interviewed Tibetans in Ngaba and many others living abroad, including the Dalai Lama and an exiled princess, who spoke candidly about the culture, religion, and politics of the besieged region. Tibet has long been vulnerable to Chinese invasion: In the 1930s, Red Army soldiers, after ransacking farms and slaughtering animals, caused widespread famine. Desperate from hunger, they discovered that votive statues in the monasteries were sculpted from barley flour and butter and were forced into “literally eating the Buddha.” Demick chronicles decades of incursions, beginning in the 1950s, that resulted in cultural upheaval, economic hardship, and the deaths of about 300,000 Tibetans. Determined to sweep out religion, the Chinese demolished monasteries. Images of the Dalai Lama—or even mention of his name—incurred harsh punishment. Tibetans were herded into communes, where they could not even cook for themselves. Schoolchildren were indoctrinated to believe that the Communist Party “had liberated Tibet from serfdom.” By 1968, protests arose, demanding the “dismantling of the communes, the distribution of livestock to the people, and the right to reopen the monasteries.” Not surprisingly, the Communists refused, directing militias to intimidate and persecute the activists. The protests, Demick writes, “established Ngaba’s reputation for rebelliousness,” which intensified in 2009, when Ngaba became notorious for self-immolations, “an unequivocal register of discontent.” Although many Tibetans are grateful for the economic growth and technology that the Chinese have brought, the loss has been tremendous. “I have everything I might possibly want in life,” one Tibetan businessman told Demick, “but my freedom.”

Memorable voices inform a penetrating, absorbing history.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9875-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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