Tuesday, June 3, 2008

reviews from Utarkhand

short reviews of my recent books and movies:

Into the Wild: Combine this with an old copy of Dharma Bums and you have a dangerous combination for a young man with too much testosterone and not enough sense. An excellent movie by Sean Penn with a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder that I listen to over and over. About an idealistic young man who wanders America before finally setting off alone into the Alaskan wilderness before poisonous berries (nearly identical to the safe ones) finally finish him off. The most poignant scene came when, near the end, he weakly writes “Happiness is only real when it is shared.” Penn turned a great book into a great movie.

August Rush: Almost a great movie. I can’t describe why it missed pulling at your heart strings but it certainly did. A kid uses his almost magical musical ability to find his lost parents. Robin Williams comes in as a somewhat creepy man who shelters homeless young musicians in return for the money they make playing on the street. I cried during this movie but I cry during almost every movie so that doesn’t count.

The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The last months in the life of Simon Bolivar, The Liberator. Not a typical Marquez book and never quite connected with me although it would be excellent for Bolivar buffs. It still has the beautiful language and turns of phrase that makes him a master. “Fourteen years of war had taught him that there was no greater victory than being alive.” Stripped of his power, “memories were more of a burden than the years.” Bottom line: not the best of Marquez but it’s still Marquez. I’m happy I read it.

We Tibetans by Rinchen Lhamo: Written by the first Tibetan woman to marry a foreigner, Rinchen traveled to London with her husband and then wrote a book about life in Tibet. She matter of factly lays out the details in matter of fact chapters such as House and Furniture, Dress and Religious Life. She writes this nonfiction book in a warm voice filled with interesting observations. I most enjoyed the Tibetan sayings that she sprinkled throughout the book:

Talking about innocent looking people, “when the hornless yak strikes, he pulverizes you”

“Round stones bring the wall down, the round man makes trouble” referring to small squat men who often have “pugnacious temperaments”

“A lazy fellow eats likes a pig and works like a worm”

If giving advice to someone on whom it will be wasted, it’s like “teaching ethics to a wolf.”

My favorite: “A dog dislikes being shown a stick; a man, the truth”

She mentions how Tibetans find Westerners unattractive because “we consider your noses too big, often they stick out like kettle-spouts; your ears too large, like pigs’ ears; your eyes blue like childrens’ marbles; your eye-sockets too deep and eye-brows too prominent, too simian. But I ought not to say such things for I am plain myself (editors note: she quite pretty) and we have a saying, that before laughing at others’ faces your own should be as beautiful as an image; at others’ clothes, your own should be of the very finest fabrics; at others’ horses, your own should be like a lion.” She also made an observation identical to one uttered fifty years later by Gary Snyder as recorded by Jack Keourac in the Dhrama Bums describing a mountain “like Buddah sitting in meditation on a lofty dais.”

Being a feisty girl from the tough people of Kham, her comparisons with the English way of life come out quite definitely on the side of the Tibetans. Since I’m trying to escape most of the mores of the Western world, her words are welcome to me. A wonderful little book that only took me a day to read, it’s great for anyone looking for an unvarnished account of life before the Chinese invasion.

Guerilla Warfare by Che Guerva: Another dangerous book for a boy dedicated to the liberation of a certain country and convinced of his own immortality. I am proud to say that I created a maxim from this book synergized from Napoleon and Che: “If an army travels on its stomach, guerillas live by their ammo.” He made it very clear that almost no attack should be undertaken unless you can recover ammo equal to the amount expended. He stresses Danton’s maxim for revolutionaries: “Audacity, audacity and more audacity.” The guerilla must have the absolute cooperation of the people and a minute knowledge of the terrain. He describes the guerilla soldier as “an acetic” and that “discipline must be one of the bases of action of the guerilla.” This book is no history of the Cuban Revolution but a detailed manual on guerilla operations amongst a sympathetic people. Clearly written with knowledge learned in the field, it’s a must have for the budding revolutionary.

Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guerva: Unfortunately, I borrowed this book so I could not annotate it like I love to do or quote it for my dear readers. A stirring adventure tale of two young doctors making their way across South America on an unreliable La Ponderosa (The Mighty One) motorcycle. Marketed as “Das Kapital meets Easy Rider”, the book showed part of Che’s transformation as he sees the poverty and exploitation across South America. He writes about social issues and his youthful hedonism with equal enthusiasm and with a passion that draws the reader to the open road. I highly recommend it.

Seven Years in Tibet by Henrich Harrer: This guy is crazy. Seriously nuts. He escapes from an Indian prison camp where he was sequestered because of his Austrian origins during WWII even though he only came to study the mountain he planned to climb. After his escape, he hikes into Tibet and spends a long time fooling officials into letting him pass while facing some of the most inhumane terrain on the planet until he finally gets into the Forbidden City, Lhasa. There he gets welcomed with open arms and eventually becomes a mentor to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. One of only seven foreigners in this city before the Chinese invasion, he got a unique view of untouched and isolationist Tibet. He painted a beautiful picture of an untouched land with honest people who enjoyed life to the fullest. He had three tips for modern explorers:

  1. Always carry whisky
  2. If you want to explore, always cross the inner line
  3. Hide your own fear


Anonymous said...

I just discovered that you have written a comprehensive report about "THE MARCH TO TIBET: WALKING WITH PEACEFUL SOLDIERS" in the Tibetan World magazine. It is not fully available on the Tibetan Uprising or Tibetan World. How can I access that report without actually running around to buy that magazine?? Please tell me, I want to read your experience.

Lex Pelger said...

Leave your email address and I'll be happy to send my word document of it.

Anonymous said...

My email address is: add_20000@yahoo.co.in

Thanks Lex. And best of luck to you & to the Tibetan Shanti March.

Melissa said...

Nice review. "We Tibetans" actually falls within my realm of reading lately. Historical/cultural NF. An amazing similar book that I am finishing right now, Return to Middle Kingdom, by Yuan-tsung Chen, is a remarkable story of adventure, political intrigue and family life as a hundred and fifty years of history sweep through China. I am sure you would like it too.