Kater Cheek's Reviews > Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy and Escape from Tibet

Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan  Green
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Oct 19, 2010

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Read in October, 2010

Murder in the High Himalaya is a factual recounting of the murder of a teenage nun in Tibet in 2008 by Chinese militia. It paints the Tibetans as a strong and spiritual people, brutally subjugated by the evil Chinese empire.

I suppose it's a testament to how jaded and cynical I am that I found the account plausible but not shocking. Tibetans are not treated with the same dignity as full-fledged Chinese citizens? Really? China engages in flagrant human rights abuses? Really? Next you're going to be telling me that frat boys sometimes have sex with girls too drunk to consent.

One personal problem I had with this book is that I read Jon Krakauer's INTO THIN AIR about climbing Annapurna, and found it superb, so I'm afraid that every other book having to do with climbing will be compared to that. The writing in this falls a little short. That's not fair to Green, (Into Thin Air was one of Krakauer's best works) but there you have it.

I have trouble identifying with the Tibetans' desperate desire to risk everything to go to India and see the Dalai Lama (and of the Chinese Government's desperate desire to not let them go--why not let dissidents leave?) The religious devotion necessary to walk for thousands of miles at altitude with insufficient supplies, risking death daily, just to see the Dalai Lama, baffles me. I understand wanting to escape for good, but not to leave just to see him. Guess I'm just not religious enough to get it.

Of course, I also think that climbing an 8000 meter mountain is near the absolute bottom of the list of things I'd like to do in my life, somewhere near sleeping with rattlesnakes and eating head cheese. Because of this, trying to identify with the people who think that climbing Everest is the best thing they will ever do is a struggle to me as well.

So empathizing with the people in this was like trying to understand the motivations of one group of people, who desperately want to memorize pi to 10,000 places, and other people, who desperately want to build life-size battleships out of cake. Both seem terribly difficult and pointless.

The main conflict in the story came between climbers who could either speak out about what they saw, and know that they might be banned from climbing in Tibet forevermore, or keep quiet about the atrocities and let China get away with it. Because I'm cynical, and don't understand the appeal of mountain climbing, it came down to a conflict between never getting to do something un-fun ever again, and speaking out about China's human rights abuses, which looked as though it accomplished very little. Is there anyone in the world who doesn't know that China gets to do whatever it wants because it's so big and mean? I guess I should admire the bravery of people who make an effort to stand up to bullies, even if the effort amounts to little.

If your indignation level is a little low, and/or if you like travelogues about the top of the world, this isn't a bad book.


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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie Can I help eat one of the battleship cakes? Or would they be soggy with sea water?

message 2: by Lori (new)

Lori I agree 100% with everything you said. BTW, Krakauker's book was about an Everest climb

message 3: by Kelly H. (Maybedog) (last edited Jun 24, 2011 10:02PM) (new) - added it

Kelly H. (Maybedog) You make good points and gave a thoughtful review. I've heard that it isn't as well written as it could be. I haven't read the book but one thing I don't understand is how you have to relate to characters in a book to enjoy it. Empathize with their pain, yes, but understand their motivations from a personal point of view? That seems odd. Although I am pretty much an atheist and don't understand this level of religious devotion, I can comprehend why someone has it and that's enough. I can understand that it's deeply personal and the foundation of their whole belief system and culture, everything they've been brought up to believe to understand the world, unlike the calculation of Pi and building things out of cake.

Thanks for listening.

message 4: by Lori (new)

Lori Yes, you do have to relate to the characters to enjoy a book. You can either go into the book caring about the subject matter, or you can be compelled to care about it by the author's presentation. It is obvious Ms. Cheek cares little about mountain climbing, however she found Into Thin Air superb. Green's book is not as well written as Krakauker's, but it is interesting and concise. The author melded two stories, one about the mountain climbers, one about the Tibetan defectors, successfully. "Murder" is not a bad story, but either the subject matter or the writing itself may not be compelling enough to make one identify with the characters. Nonetheless, the book provides an excellent glimpse into human rights injustices that are happening in Tibet. For this reason, I would recommend it.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it. I think that again, you make really good points and make total sense. What I was trying to say was that I think there is a difference between relating to the characters and caring about the subject matter. I get why you need to relate to the general subject matter and that's what I agreed with you about. You wrote a good review. I just don't think you have to identify with the characters to empathize with them. A good example is that I hate football and I have no desire to ever read about or watch anything about it. I've never been a foster child or a very rich woman who takes in an amazing kid. But the recent film about the foster boy who became an MVP football player is very interesting because it's about a boy overcoming obstacles to achieve what he wants, to be successful. So what I was trying to say that just understanding the characters motivations from a more general standpoint it what I think is necessary.

Again, thank you for listening. I hope I haven't offended you.

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