Gaby's Reviews > Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero

Escape from the Land of Snows by Stephan Talty
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Apr 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, historical-non-fiction, nonfiction, must-read
Read in April, 2011 — I own a copy


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 - 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 - Hardcover
Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 18, 2011), 320 pages.
Review copy acquired through the Amazon Vine program.
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