After extensive travel in the varied landscapes of Tibet, British journalist French (Liberty or Death, 1997, etc.) concludes that no freedom can come to this fabled land until liberty first invades and then pervades China.
To produce his splendid account, the determined and intrepid author read everything he could about the region; traveled its length and breadth by foot, wheezing bus, and coughing car; visited people in areas so remote they poked him with curious fingers to see if he was real; interviewed outcasts and officials, hookers and the Dalai Lama; dodged humorless security forces; ate native food so challenging that even reading about it makes the stomach rebel; stayed in rooms so fetid that their odors seem to adhere to the page. There is not much to laugh about, but French does occasionally flash the bright blade of irony, as in his discussion of accommodations in western Tibet, where, he writes, “the Hotel Clean Cheap . . . was dirty and overpriced.” The author begins and ends with the1998 suicide of a man he knew as a cook in the Himalayas, Ngodup, who burned himself to death in New Delhi to protest the United Nation’s ineffectual Tibetan policies. French himself chides the US for abandoning the area after Nixon went to China and is also critical of showbiz types who treat Tibet as if it were a movie set and the people quaint medievals. But he is most unforgiving in his descriptions of the horrors wrought upon the region during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guards swarmed into Tibet, destroying, torturing, and killing. However, the commonly cited figure of 1.2 million Tibetans dead is much too high, French argues, presenting evidence that it was closer to 500,000.
First-rate reporting, sometimes alarming and always informative, from a writer whose heart instructs his mind and animates his pen. (3 maps)