YAK BUTTER AND BLACK TEA by Wade Brackenbury


A Journey into Forbidden China
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 A mountain-climbing chiropractor becomes perhaps the first westerner ever to reach a remote Tibetan valley, in the hope of making contact with a little-known tribe called the Drung. Brackenbury, an experienced mountaineer and survival expert, intrepidly pushes both the physical and bureaucratic envelope in his mission. Existing principally on a diet of assorted yak recipes, the trio of explorers composed of the author, a French photographer named Pascal, and Sophi, a beautiful French-Chinese translator, journey into a region of western China and southeastern Tibet officially off-limits to tourists. They are frequently detained and searched by Chinese policemen; in one harrowing episode, having been assured of their freedom yet held captive on a military base, they effect an escape, only to be hunted down and nearly shot. Thereafter, they are widely known among the Tibetans as those ``three bad people.'' At one time or another, all three suffer gravely from the elements, from the food, and, for the first two-thirds of the narrative, from one another. Pascal, it turns out, is a coward who blames Sophi for his reluctance to proceed over the remote high mountain passes without guides or official permission. Brackenbury finally cuts loose from his companions and treks on alone. His skills as a chiropractor are called on frequently as he ``adjusts'' the joints of various Tibetan pilgrims, and on the whole he gets on tolerably well with a suspicious and poorly fed people, who grudgingly offer him shelter and, less frequently, food. Finally, Brackenbury reaches his goal, but only after arduously hiking over snow-covered passes and clambering down steep cliffs, and the Drung turn out to be less isolated than the author had imagined. Occasionally self-indulgent and slow, Brackenbury's memoir is best read for the local color and some chilling, death-defying moments.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56512-148-1
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996