Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land
by Patrick French
Release Date: 14 October, 2003
I will probably not do justice to the author since my choice of words and phrases are limited, unlike his. This is a very touching book. It is heartrending to read just the few instances of Tibetan suffering that French mentions. It also makes me very afraid for Chinese people because nothing much seems to have changed from the scenes described in the book in China, except for income. Money cannot make-up for lack of freedom; at least not in the long run.
I also felt that French goes overboard in some of his interpretations of his subjects. He also has strong opinion over smaller issues like where he says the Tibetan Government (in exile) does not receive royalty from books written by the Dalai Lama - I am sure one big donation from one of his (Dalai Lama's) patrons would be worth many times what the royalties would have contributed.
Anyway, you need to read the book not just if you are a Tibetophile, but as a human being, as a global citizen. I would like to reproduce a quote from the book, by Dalai Lama in 1959:
"There are two great forces in the world today," he said. "One is the force of the people with power, with armies to enforce their power, and with a land to recruit their armies from. The other is the force of the poor and dispossessed. The two are in perpetual conflict, and it is certain who will lose ...Unless this is changed, the world will perish. Therefore every poet, every religious man, every political leader, should fight against this division till he dies." There you go - despondency and hope (that the fight will change it) in one paragraph!
Near the beginning of this book, while describing the inordinate amount of media and celebrity attention Tibet has received in recent years, Patrick French writes a funny line that I think captures the essence of why he wrote this part history/part travelogue/part memoir: "[The attention] made me recall the days when you had to say 'Lhasa, the capital of Tibet,' in the same way you might say, 'Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.'"
Tibet was once a place of remoteness to Westerners; today, it seems all too familiar to them, at least superficially. Its spiritual leader, its religion, and even some of its fashions are now widely recognized by many Europeans and Americans. Celebrities seem to fall hard for its causes. As a long-time advocate for Tibet, French, in some ways, assisted in this process and his book is something of a reassessment in how he looks at the place that is at once so familiar to many, yet remains widely misunderstood.
"Tibet, Tibet" is ostensibly about French's return to the Himalayan land to rediscover the place and people that have fascinated him since his teenage years. But along with personal observations made while traveling, he mixes in a good deal of Tibetan history, interviews with both prominent and unknown Tibetans, and, of course, large sections on the country that has dominated Tibet for most of the modern era: China. French writes in a discursive style, occasionally returning to subjects he has already covered to further elaborate on them.
The author is a man approaching middle-age who is revising his youthful views on Tibet and making the inevitable mental compromises that the young do not make. But this is not an angry repudiation or even mournful elegy of his former views; this is a mature work. While his love for Tibet and its people are still obvious, French now seems to realize that many of the causes he once advocated are so far removed from the reality that Tibetans must deal with everyday that those causes have become unhelpful to them.
This is not to say that French seeks to downplay what has happened to the Tibetans. His descriptions of what the Chinese (as well as the British and Americans) have done to Tibet are about as subtle as a punch to the stomach. But he now knows that the destinies of Tibet and China are tied together, and that it no longer makes sense to speak of a "Free Tibet" without speaking of a "Free China".