THE LAST BARBARIANS by Michel Peissel

THE LAST BARBARIANS

The Discovery of the Source of the Mekong in Tibet

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Potentially fascinating rambles in remote Tibet are trashed by Peissel's (The Secret War in Tibet, 1973, etc.) chest-thumping and gratuitous opining. A longtime Tibet fancier, Peissel travels back to the roof of the world to search for the headwaters of the Mekong, mother river of Asia, which flows 2,800 miles from its gathering in a back-of-beyond mountain spring to the South China Sea off Vietnam. This adventure takes him to Tibet's Nangchen--``remotest, largest, most secretive of the many little kingdoms of the much-feared Khamba tribes,'' a frigid high-altitude desert with staggering sweeps of land, egg-size hail, its own particular animals and plants and climate. Seeing this, readers might reasonably expect a scintillating portrait of that fabulous, little-known landscape (if not a measure of humility before the colossal nature of it all). What you get instead, between snippets of self-pity at the difficulty of the journey, is Peissel's collected pensÇes on the poverty, the unworthiness, the general vileness of the human species, except for those heroes who reach beyond mediocrity to purity and the hard life (Peissel sounding much like Wilfred Thesiger at his worst), among whom he seems to count himself. By turns, Peissel is ridiculous (his definition of ``discovery'' is shamefully self-serving), pompous (the source of the river was ``a place that everyone before me failed to find''--Europeans that is, as if the Tibetans were so much chopped liver), territorial (he leaves his mark to establish that he was there first), superior (``Weepers lose, say the Tibetans, and I, for one, agree. I prefer to join the eaters and drinkers''). Finally, he is vulgar: Upon reaching the source, he and his pals ``celebrated [their] victory over the Mekong'' after having ``conquered'' the river. The only thing that blows harder than a high Tibetan wind is Peissel himself. (8 pages color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-4534-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997




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