Seven Years in Tibet

by Heinrich Harrer

Other authorsPeter Fleming (Introduction), Richard Graves (Translator)
Hardcover, 1954

Status

Available

Publication

New York: Dutton, 1954. Illustrated with 40pp. of photographs, maps.

Description

"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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member NewsieQ
During World War II, the author, a German citizen, was a British prisoner of war, held in India. Although he was treated well at the POW camp, he longed to find his way to Tibet … a boyhood dream to penetrate the forbidding mountain area and making his way to The Forbidden City, the capital of Lhasa. He tried to escape once, but was found and taken back to the POW camp. The second time he was successful.

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.
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LibraryThing member ngennaro
Good book, I would not rate it as a one of the "few great travel stories" but its a good memoir of Heinrich's adventure into Tibet. Ok book, little bit wandering but overall and interesting look at Tibet.
LibraryThing member _eskarina
„Seven Years in Tibet“, an autobiographical travel book by Heinrich Harrer, is quite a good collection of short stories and personal reflections of Tibet.
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.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Heinrich Herrer snuck into Tibet over the Himalayas after growing restless in an Indian POW camp. His book is the work of a typical 1950s macho man -- he barely dwells on the intriguing hardship of his nearly-barefoot journey over the mountains in the winter, but his later portraits of Tibet are fascinating. As pointed out in the preface, Herrer was one of few European explorers not to approach a developing country from a superior material position; when he arrived in Lhasa, he had nothing but the ragged clothes on the back, and his experience with the Tibetan people's generosity means his writing escapes the racial stereotypes prevalent in the travel literature of the time. His portrait of Tibetan society in its last days before the Chinese invasion is both awe-inspiring and heart-wrenching.… (more)
LibraryThing member pussreboots
Wasn't expecting to like this book, but I did.
LibraryThing member maggotbrain
In many ways this is a fascinating insight to a closed and traditional feudal nation. The little stories around the religious rites and ways prove very entertaining, meaning that as a historical document, it has significant value. The author himself has clearly led an amazing life. An Olympic standard sportsman, who, not content with scaling the seemingly unassailable north face of the Eiger, sets out to climb in the Himalayan range. Due to timing, he manages to get stuck in an internment camp in India in 1939 when war breaks out, and spends most of the war there detailing his various escape attempts. When he finally gets past mountains and bandits, he manages to become a gardener, a graphologist and part-time teacher to the Dalai Lama amongst other things. It all sounds like the stuff of fantasy, and one cannot help but be slightly incredulous about the whole thing. Some editions have a foreword by the Lama himself which gives some gravity to the whole affair though.

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.
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LibraryThing member eclecticdodo
This is a classic account written by a German POW escapee who trekked across the Himalayas and through Tibet to claim asylum in the capital city. He eventually became friend and tutor to the young Dalai Lama. There is surprisingly little of the politics of World War Two despite that being the reason for his journey. Later in the book he does comment a little on the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the (still ongoing) political situation there. It is an incredible story and fascinating to read of this most closed of countries. There are detailed descriptions of the way of life of peasants along his route to Lassa as well as the monks and nobles of the city. I can't help but wonder what Tibet would be like today if the Dalai Lama had been able to carry out his plans for modernisation uninterrupted by the Chinese.… (more)
LibraryThing member JudithProctor
Fascinating book, not lest because there is so little information about Tibet before the Chinese invaded. This is a record of a life that doesn't exist any more. Be aware that the Dalai Lama is only a small part of the book. Most of it is about the writer's efforts to reach Lhassa in the days when foreigners were forbidden to enter Tibet at all. It's a strange land of kind individuals and heavy bureaucracy. It's also about surviving a very hostile environment with severe winters, and the lure of the mountains to an experienced climber.
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.
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Language

Original language

German

Barcode

6847
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