INVADING TIBET by Mark Frutkin


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 The title of Frutkin's venturesome, occasionally awkward first novel is literal as well as ironic: For Edmund Candler, a reporter traveling with a 1904 British expedition into Tibet, finds that it's actually Tibet and its Buddhist ethos that invade him--just as they do Candler's great-great-nephew Alec, who researches Candler's story 80 years later. Alec's first-person narration is fitfully interwoven into a third-person account of Candler's adventure, which dominates the story. What unites the two is the Buddhist idea of the emptiness behind phenomena, which Frutkin, for years a student of famed Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa, apparently knows a lot about. The novel's central figure, in fact--a strange and commanding Tibetan named ``Sarge'' who acts as Candler's servant- -seems based on Trungpa as he guides the reporter into new spiritual realms, partly through magic (e.g., showing him a severed head with Candler's face). Meanwhile, the British forge on toward Lhasa, hoping to find power or at least gold; and Alec searches books and family heirlooms for an understanding of Candler's journey: two quests doomed to unsatisfying endings, however, as Lhasa turns out to be a grimy town from which the Dalai Lama has fled and Candler's odyssey proves to be less edifying to Alec than is the death of Alec's close friend. All this is a metaphor, no doubt, for the idea that the goal of the journey is the journey itself--a truth that at last dawns on Candler, who realized that there was ``no meaning to Tibet, no meaning to this expedition. No meaning to his life, either....He walked for a long time in silence....The mountains were silent. For a moment, only a moment, Candler's heart too was silent.'' The plotlines don't quite mesh, making for a jerky read; but Frutkin's prose is smooth, and his rare attempt to evoke Buddhist ideas through fiction creates, at times, a palpable sense of cosmic mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1993
ISBN: 0-939149-74-5
Page count: 214pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992