Escape from the Land of Snows


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I picked up this book many years ago at the mall on a table full of free, uncorrected proof copies and sponsored by Read it Forward.  (Because I read an uncorrected proof some of the page numbers referenced below may be off.  I tried to use chapter references where it was close to the beginning or the end.)  I'm not one for exploring other religions nor am I much for the countries of the Far East, but for some reason this book about the Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet sounded interesting - and it was.  Written by the same author who wrote the book on which the movie "Captain Phillips" was based, who obviously has a talent for taking true events from history and making them into readable novels.  I never forgot that the events I was reading about actually happened, and although it was a horrific time for Tibetans, the people in the pages began to feel like friends to me and I was driven to read more about them.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  0

Religion:  5

Gruesome:  4

Suspense:  3

Morality:  5

Traditional:  2

Sex - no instances

Religion - the central figure in the book is the Dalai Lama, the leader of the Buddhist faith and therefore a very religious book

Gruesome - the Chinese invade Tibet, over 500,000 people were killed, prison torture

Suspense - I knew nothing of the plight of the Dalai Lama so it was somewhat suspenseful since I was wondering how it would all work out

Morality - when deeply religious people are invaded by another country, and those religious people are pacifists, there are a lot of moral issues

Traditional - to most American readers it is an unknown culture and an unknown religion, therefore rather non-traditional.  Pages 26 & 27 gave a good explanation of Tibet and Buddhism.

The early stages of Mao's rule (p. 44) reminded me of  Lisa See's "Dreams of Joy".  Some of the quotes from the 1950s seem to have predicted the future almost as a Ray Bradbury novel.  FitzGerald's words from 1954 particularly highlight the coincidence, "I see...-nations of blind warrior ants in the making and the world of morality and reason being slowly forced back." (p. 106)

Discussion Questions

The 1950s brought many misconceptions of Tibet. (p. 99) What did you know about Tibet before reading this book?  How did your opinion change after reading the book?  What were you most surprised to read?

Imagine if your four year old was suddenly the leader of your religion.  How would it feel?

Discuss from page 31:
  • Four noble truths
  • Noble 8-fold path
  • "Sin is not the great villain in Buddhist philosophy, ignorance is."
A scholar worried (p. 34) that DL was deprived of a childhood.  Wouldn't he have had a childhood in a previous life?

Describe a time when you were nervous to meet someone - only to realize they were human like you. (p. 51)

When deciding whether to return to Lhasa, "His Holiness decided to ask for divine guidance" and used "an old divination method."  (p. 50)  Have you ever tried any type of method to make a decision?

Buddha taught "that our enemies make our greatest teachers". (p. 52)  What have you learned from an enemy?

"Pregnant women lay outside...naked...bellies oiled to catch the spring sunlight, which it was believed would give them an easy birth." (p. 71) What superstitions do we have today?

Monks gave back their vows but were still conflicted about taking a life to protect the DL.  Talk out both sides - no violence, does it lead to an end of the religion?  - violence, how does it preserve or conflict with the beliefs?

Tibet had a bizarre justice system (p. 97), for example - a suspect had to lick a hot iron three times and if he burned his tongue he was guilty.  What other similar examples do you know throughout history?

The Ragyabas were considered "unclean"  and less than human by other Lhasans.  In spite of being oppressed by his own people, one of the ragyabas joined the rebels to fight for Tibet. (p. 155) Why?  Would you?

Imagine that the leader of your religion, the Pope or your pastor, had to flee.  How would it affect you?  Would you be glad they got out or sad they had to flee?  Would it shake your faith in their divinity?  Would the escape signify myth or miracle?  Would it show human weakness or encourage your faith in a bigger plan?

How did your opinion of the DL change on page 200 when you read, "...the Dalai Lama wanted to enter India as the head of a sovereign authority and not as a mere refugee."?

How did the journalists help Tibet? (p. 221)  What did you think of the journalists', especially Barber's, actions to get the scoop. (p. 218 - 221)

In what ways did the DL's flight mark his transition from boy to man?

What was your favorite quote from the book?

Is Tibet better now than it would've been if the rebels hadn't fought back?  What if China had never invaded?

Theme Ideas

Serve homemade cookies, lollipops and gum like 14th's younger brother received from their mom. (p. 30)

Serve tsampa, barley meal eaten by all Tibetans. (p. 63)

Decorate with white curtains and silver butter lamps for the Tibetan New Year. (Ch. 5)  Serve bowls of fresh nuts and dates.  
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Playlist:

Serve butter tea like men drank.

Serve spicy snacks like the vendors at Barkhor Square sold. (p. 138)

Serve bread and condensed milk like the travelers ate "on the other side of Largo-La". (p. 201)

Play mah-jongg like Cho Lhamo did before the Chinese. (p. 208)

Serve cream crackers, butter and jam like the first meal the DL bought himself. (p. 218)

Serve Boodles British Gin like tea plantation owners drank. (p. 218)

Invite a Tibetan refugee to your book club.

Begin your book club as the Dalai Lama typically opens a conference by saying, "Given the significance of this event, I would like to encourage everyone, for the space of these few [hours], to dispense with ostentatious posing and the empty formalities of ceremony.  Let us try to get to the heart of the matter." (p. 241)

Serve a cake decorated like the Tibetan flag. (p. 251)
(You could use fondant or strawberries and blueberries to fill in the colors.)  
 

Give your guests a postcard with Chinese workers with hammers and sheaves of wheat. (p. 259)

I wasn't happy with these options so I went searching online for Tibetan food and came across this article.  From there I followed a link about banana bread and saw a menu of what the DL typically ate throughout a day when visiting the U.S.  I decided to serve a menu based on his typical breakfast when I hosted the discussion about this book.  I served papaya cubes, mozzarella cubes and banana bread.  I also served cream crackers and jam like the first meal the DL bought himself.

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