An initially rickety narrative about the exiled Dalai Lama’s homeland recovers to stand solidly in favor of Tibet’s independence from China.
Crime-novelist Laird (Black Dog, 2004, etc.) is also a former Asiaweek correspondent who has written about the CIA’s Cold War meddling in the region (Into Tibet, 2001). Here, he moves directly to the heart of geopolitical matters in a surprisingly intimate “history” of Tibet as revealed in conversation with its outcast leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Composed over three years from more than 60 hours of interviews with His Holiness, the text makes it clear that neither Laird nor his esteemed collaborator is a historian. “This is not just a book about history,” the author declares at one point, “but about how you learned it.” Yet what emerges from their give-and-take is a thoughtful dialogue (call it a philosophical dialectic) about Tibet’s past not simply as a sequence of events, but as seen through the perspectives of myth, spirituality, morality, human frailty and fate. The intermixture of historical research with dialogue and the writer’s own descriptions of working on the project is at first distracting. But as the unique nature of Tibet’s identity as “an inward-looking religious state” emerges, it becomes painfully clear how the nation came to be overrun by the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s, eventually forcing the Dalai Lama to flee and set up a government-in-exile in northern India. The book fares best when, as in its later chapters, it stays close to the present and to Tenzin Gyatso. His Holiness remains committed to dialogue and nonviolence in resolving Tibet’s longstanding disagreements with China, and his humor and humility in the face of adversity are remarkable for a figure representing a nation and people so clearly wronged.
Will deepen general readers’ knowledge of Tibet, its religion and its engaging leader.