We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies

by Tsering Yangzom Lama

Ebook, 2022

Call number




Bloomsbury Publishing (2022), Edition: 1, 352 pages


"In the wake of China's invasion of Tibet throughout the 1950s, Lhamo and her younger sister, Tenkyi, arrive at a refugee camp in Nepal. They survived the dangerous journey across the Himalayas, but their parents did not. As Lhamo--haunted by the loss of her homeland and her mother, a village oracle--tries to rebuild a life amid a shattered community, hope arrives in the form of a young man named Samphel and his uncle, who brings with him the ancient statue of the Nameless Saint--a relic known to vanish and reappear in times of need. Decades later, the sisters are separated, and Tenkyi is living with Lhamo's daughter, Dolma, in Toronto. While Tenkyi works as a cleaner and struggles with traumatic memories, Dolma vies for a place as a scholar of Tibetan Studies. But when Dolma comes across the Nameless Saint in a collector's vault, she must decide what she is willing to do for her community, even if it means risking her dreams"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is the story of three women across two generations, all Tibetan refugees. First, two sisters make the difficult walk into Nepal with their parents soon after the Red Army arrives in their part of Tibet. They end up in a camp that becomes a permanent community, one sister dutiful and who stays,
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and the other who does well in school, so well that the community works to get her to higher education in India, an experience she finds overwhelming. Then there is the daughter of a sister, who attends university in Toronto, living with the aunt who reached Toronto before she did and who becomes involved in trying to repatriate an artifact she sees in a wealthy Canadian's home.

This is a vivid portrayal of what life is like for refugees and for their children, who always feel their strongest connection to a place they can't even visit. This is a book set in the Tibetan communities of Nepal and Canada, but written for western readers; explaining cultural practices and how it feels to live as a permanent exile. The plot, involving a stolen artifact and star-crossed lovers was fun, even if it lost a little momentum at the end.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Tibetan sisters Lhamo and Tenkyi, along with their parents, flee their home in the wake of the Chinese army’s occupation in the 1950s. During the journey into Nepal, the family is asked to safeguard a small religious statue, called a ku. The sisters end up in a Nepalese refugee settlement, where
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Lhamo meets and develops a complicated relationship with Samphel. Tenkyi eventually emigrates to Canada, and Lhamo’s daughter, Dolma, eventually joins her in Toronto to pursue an education in Tibetan culture and history. It is a story of relocation, suffering, and resilience.

The ku is a recurring object throughout the story. “And here he is. Our camp’s lost Saint. So humble, so precious. Looking up with teeth bared, eyes wide, as if struggling to speak. I almost want to laugh because right here on this cluttered oak table, in this object, is our entire history, the whole of our civilization.”

The storyline travels backward and forward in time to provide the family’s ancestral history, trace the provenance of the ku, and follow Dolma’s increasing awareness of her family’s past traumas. She has been shielded from finding out too much by the older generation, who closely guard their painful past experiences.

The prose is beautiful. It is an intricately crafted story. It contains enough complexity to keep the reader’s interest. The author employs alternating first person perspectives that shift in time to contrast the old and new lifestyles. It also provides an opportunity to learn more about our world – in this case the Tibetan refugee experience, Tibetan culture, and its annexation by China. Much of it is set near the border of Tibet and Nepal.

The importance of a homeland to a sense of identity is integral to the narrative. It is sprinkled with Tibetan words, rites, and spiritual beliefs. Moving parts include an oracle, a love story, orphaned children, art collectors, multiple journeys, and personal growth for the main characters. The ending is emotional and satisfying. It is a wonderful reading experience. Highly recommended!
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Scotiabank Giller Prize (Shortlist — 2022)
Banff Mountain Book Competition (Shortlist — Fiction and Poetry — 2023)
GLCA New Writers Award (Fiction — 2023)
Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize (Shortlist — Literary Fiction — 2023)


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