An English traveler examines the occupation of Tibet firsthand while crossing paths with a Tibetan refugee whose life exemplifies that conflict.
In his United States debut, British journalist Carroll (No Fixed Abode: A Journey Through Homelessness from Cornwall to London, 2013, etc.) chronicles his visit to the “Roof of the World,” examining the history and conquest of a people and the story of one young Tibetan exile's perilous attempts to cross the border. Seeking to understand why the ruling Han Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950 and why they remain, Carroll jumped at the opportunity to travel to the "country of stone and ice," which is (unofficially) closed to outsiders since Chinese officials fear that they might observe—and report on—daily life in Tibet. He richly describes the landscape of the country and its people—e.g., painterly images of a stretch of terrain outside his car window as "a bay of wet and seeping mud which formed strange patterns and shapes as interpretive as clouds"; a rugged, "serrated horizon"; an area "scored” by “red crenulated mountains." In addition to recounting his travels, Carroll tells the story of Lobsang, a Tibetan expat crossing the Himalayas on foot. The author explores China's tyranny and human rights abuses against dissenters in such alarming detail that readers will gasp with worry and dismay when the young man even considers an illegal border crossing. (The author also drolly recounts weighing the limited programming options on China's main TV network, which, from what he could tell, aired mostly "military dramas and terrifying operas.") Though Lobsang’s meeting with the author is inevitable, it is still suspenseful in the atmosphere of heightened drama that Carroll builds. The author dutifully fulfills Tibetans' oft-repeated exhortation to visitors: "Go to Tibet, and then tell the world what you saw."
A gripping, enlightening journey.