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Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero
On the evening of March 17, 1959, as the people of Tibet braced for a violent power grab by Chinese occupiers—one that would forever wipe out any vestige of national sovereignty—the twenty-four-year-old Dalai Lama, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, contemplated the impossible. The task before him was immense: to slip past a cordon of crack Chinese troops ringing his summer palace and, with an escort of 300, journey across the highest terrain in the world and over treacherous Himalayan passes to freedom—one step ahead of pursuing Chinese soldiers.
Mao Zedung, China’s ruthless Communist dictator, had pinned his hopes for total Tibetan submission on controlling the impressionable Dalai Lama. So beloved was the young ruler—so identified with his country’s essence—that for him to escape might mean perpetual resistance from a population unwilling to tolerate an increasingly brutal occupation. The Dalai Lama’s minders sent word to the Tibetan rebels and CIA-trained guerrillas who waited on the route: His Holiness must escape—at all costs.
In many ways, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was unprepared for the epic journey awaiting him. Twenty-two years earlier, government search parties, guided by prophecies and omens, had arrived at the boy’s humble peasant home and subjected the two-year-old to a series of tests. After being declared the reincarnation of Tibet’s previous ruler, the boy was brought to Lhasa to learn the secrets of Buddhism and the ways of ultimate power. Forced in the ensuing two decades to cope with aching loneliness and often stifling ritual—and compelled to suppress his mischievous personality—Gyatso eventually proved himself a capable leader. But no previous Dalai Lama had ever taken on a million Communist Chinese soldiers bent on stamping out Tibetan freedom.
To keep his country’s dream of independence alive by means of a government in exile, the young ruler would not only have to brave battalions of enemy soldiers and the whiteout conditions waiting on the slopes of the Himalayas’ highest peaks, he’d have to overcome a different type of blindness: the naïveté intrinsic to his sheltered palace life and his position as leader of a people who considered violence deeply taboo.
His mind made up, the young Dalai Lama set off on his audacious journey to India while behind him a Chinese army rolled over Lhasa, its advance hunter patrols in fierce pursuit of the man they most coveted. The 14th’s escape was an act of daring and defiance that represented Tibet’s last hope, and so the world watched, transfixed, as the gentle monk’s journey unfolded.
Emotionally powerful and irresistibly page-turning, Escape from the Land of Snows is simultaneously a portrait of the inhabitants of a spiritual nation forced to take up arms in defense of their ideals, and the saga of an initially childlike ruler who at first wore his monk’s robes uncomfortably but was ultimately transformed by his escape into the towering figure the world knows today—a charismatic champion of free thinking and universal compassion.
I don't generally like books that have to have a cast of characters at the beginning of them, but this book was interesting and had excellent, simply writing that made it very easy-to-read and quick to read. Not my favorite book, but not bad either.read more
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Before reading Escape from the Land of Snows, I had a vague, general understanding of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. I knew Tibet had been invaded by China, its territory is protected by the mountain ranges above Nepal (and Mt. Everest), and that it is a nation of Buddhists and pacifists. I'd seen various movies/books that depicted the selection of the Dalai Lama and about Tibet was aware that much poetic license had been taken - James Hilton's Shangri-La, Tintin in Tibet, Little Buddha, Seven Years in Tibet.Escape from the Land of Snows deftly combines a glimpse into the Dalai Lama's personal history with the historical and political events that have shaped Tibet. We learn how the Dalai Lama is selected; from the process of selection to the conditions that must be fulfilled - and this is explained in its sociocultural and political context. Stephen Talty makes the Dalai Lama come alive both as the political, religious and cultural figure that he is and on a personal level.Talty starts in 1935 with the passing of previous Dalai Lama and the search for his successor. I'd had all sorts of Hollywood misconceptions as to the method of finding the successor and found the detailed description fascinating. We learn the details of the Dalai Lama's life from the moment that he was "found"- in Amdo, an obscure village 1,000 miles (2 months' travel) from the capital Lhasa. I was fascinated by the specific ways in which the monks are able to identify and confirm the identity of the next Dalai Lama. We learn how the three year old boy was raised, tutored, and shaped to become Tibet's spiritual leader. Separated from his family with the exception of his younger brothers - one of whom was disciplined when the Dalai Lama misbehaved - the new Dalai Lama is raised in the traditional way by elderly monks.Talty recounts what it was like for the Dalai Lama as a lonely young boy raised by monks in the palace in Lhasa and revered by the Tibetan people. As I read about his acts of generosity and mercy, such as releasing the inmates from the nearby prison, it was clear that the Dalai Lama sees the world very differently. We learn how his trusting and generous nature - his celebration of the good in others - played out in the negotiations with Mao and the People's Republic of China. Mao's desire to reintegrate Tibet into China and the increasing ruthlessness of China's foreign policy resulted in heartbreaking attacks on Tibetan monks, citizens, and the Tibetan government.As Talty shares the harrowing details of those last days and of the Dalai Lama's escape from Lhasa during those turbulent days, we see the strength of the Dalai Lama's love for his country and his people and just how much he means to Tibet and the Tibetan people.Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero is more than an engrossing read, it's a story that needs to be shared.ISBN-10: 9780307460950 - HardcoverPublisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 18, 2011), 320 pages.Review copy acquired through the Amazon Vine program.read more
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Drawing from written eyewitness accounts and interviews with survivors, Talty (The Illustrious Dead) describes the events in 1959 that irrevocably altered the future of Tibet. He skillfully moves between protests in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama's escape toward the border, tracing stories of the many people involved. Adding complexity to this narrative are details about CIA support of Tibetans fighting against the Chinese regime, the U.S. role in securing permission for the Dalai Lama's entry into India, and the worldwide media frenzy that shaped the public's perceptions of Tibet. Witness reports include those of the Dalai Lama's mother and brothers, rebels and refugees, members of the CIA's Tibetan Task Force, and former prisoners of the Chinese. From these multiple voices the author has woven a vivid picture of a dangerous journey and a country in crisis. The accompanying analysis provides context for the intricate events that changed the young leader into a "movable Tibet," and an isolated mountain society into an international cause and "a place of the mind." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.