"Seven Years in Tibet" is the extraordinary true story of how a young Austrian adventurer became tutor and friend to the Dalai Lama. This timeless story illuminates Eastern culture, as well as the childhood of His Holiness and the current plight of Tibetans. A major motion picture will feature Brad Pitt in the lead role of Heinrich Harrer.
Seven Years in Tibet is the story of how Heinrich Harrer (1912-2006) trekked through some of the world’s most dangerous mountain “trails,” dodged Tibetan authorities, foiled gangs of armed robbers, made friends with Tibetan nomads, and eventually arrived (without proper authorization) to Lhasa. But the most interesting story, in my estimation, was his unlikely and intense friendship with the Dalai Lama.
I’ve seen the Dalai Lama interviewed on television, and was incredibly impressed with him, now an elderly man. But the Dalai Lama that Heinrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt in the 1997 movie based on the book) met and eventually tutored, was just fourteen years old. The story of how he became Dalai Lama is fascinating.
Seven Years in Tibet is not a book I would have sought out, and I’m not certain I wouldn’t have rejected it if it had popped into my hands by magic. But since it was a selection of the non-fiction group at my public library, I felt obligated to give it a try. Although it started out a bit slowly, it eventually picked up steam, and soon I was unable to put it down. That’s pretty amazing for a book that was first published almost 60 years ago – in 1953. The author claimed not to be a great writer, but his writing is clear and lucid and without pretense.
The story of Tibet and what happened to it after the Communist Chinese claimed it as one of their provinces is quite interesting. Although I knew something of what happened to Tibet and the Dalai Lama, Seven Years in Tibet gave a first-hand account of the events in the 1950s and how tragic they really were.
However, writer’s style is too simple, sometimes boring - it is such kind of plain and tasteless descrip-tion children are taught at school when they start with stylistics. Harrer has so many interesting topics, so many outstanding landscapes to open to his reader, but he is unable to get out of them anything more than conventional phrases.
So my second criticism is that the book is too generalizing in some aspects, it does not try to distin-guish between what is deeper feature of Tibetian mentality and what is just individual disposition. (And it is also interesting how Harrer portays British and German soldiers, with respect to the broader context of WWII.)
But after all, it’s a nice introduction of Tibet and probably could serve as an impuls for further reading about it.
However, it is not the fabulous tale that is told which proves to be the books biggest flaw. It is the writing style. Clearly not really an author, the book is often stilted, repetitive in style, and reads like a diary with the dates taken out (which I am presuming is exactly how it was written). Many times throughout the book, a glimmer of an interesting aside becomes visible, only to be glossed over for the next fact in line. Some of the weak style can probably be put down to a questionable translation, but the lack of follow up on the side stories clearly cannot be. The author’s attitude to all he sees around him could be viewed as offensive to the 21st Century reader, but to complain about this alone would be to see this work in an unfair context. It is hard to truly imagine how bizarre this must all have seemed to an Austrian visiting Shangri la.
All in all, well worth a read for the information alone (the old edition I have also contains some of his photos which added greatly to the experience), but slightly disappointing how it was all tied together.
It's about the skills that a Westerner can bring to a feudal culture, but also about the things that he can learn from that culture.
Also a heart-breaking awareness of the need for political allies in a world of military powers. Tibet's isolationism meant that it had no one to call on for help when the Chinese invaded, and the results of that invasion were of tragic proportions, both to Tibet's people and her culture.
Definitely worth reading.