Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Jonathan Green's "Murder in the High Himalaya"

I have finished Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy and Escape from Tibet by Jonathan Green, but I don’t know where to start.

Maybe I should start with current headlines? Two Tibetan teens self-immolate in protest of Chinese control (http://goo.gl/7mRPd). That makes fifty-one since 2009. Tibetans still struggle for their freedom.

Maybe I should start at the beginning, go back to 1950, or earlier? There is a lot I don’t know. That, I think, is the crux of it. I am the norm. Most people in the U.S. do not know about Tibet. Most of the world does not know what is happening there.

In attempting to write a review of Mr. Green’s heart-wrenching book, I feel like there is so much that needs to be said. There is not enough room on this blog to post it all, but I have some thoughts I would like to share.
First, there is the author’s writing style. More than an account of a tragic event, he puts his heart into this story. It is far more than a fact-based report. As I told him, when I read his descriptions of the land, I can see his love for that part of the world. The mountains are characters themselves. They stand over time as silent witnesses.
What is the story? It is about a young nun killed while trying to escape to a better life. It is about many others surviving that escape. It is about Chinese control of a beautiful, mystical country. It is also about the values of spirituality and faith clashing with commercialism and socialism.
In Mr. Green’s account, Dolma Palkyi and Dolkar Tomso were best friends from childhood. Dolkar took her vows at the age of sixteen to become a nun, known as Kelsang Namtso. In 2006, the two decide to escape Chinese controlled Tibet in hopes of meeting their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. This simple act of expressing religious freedom, something too many of us take for granted, would cost Kelsang her life.
At the same time, the story interweaves the travels of Luis Benitez, a mountain climbing expert and guide. His occupation was to lead the rich and privileged on luxury expeditions to the tops of the world’s tallest mountains. The way the author builds his narrative, it is interesting to watch Benitez’s path come together with Kelsang and Dolma. Even before the fateful event, they unknowingly cross paths in Lhasa on the same day.
The story is also about the world’s silence when it comes to Chinese control of Tibet. The climbers, like Benitez, witnessed the shooting of Kelsang, but would not speak out against the Chinese, primarily for financial concerns. They did not want to lose money over the death of one person. The book extrapolates that idea as the way the world views China’s treatment of Tibet – the “superpowers” do not want to upset business over one “little” country.
A lot of the much-needed history of Tibet, China and even mountain climbing is thoroughly detailed. Filled with footnotes and an extensive bibliography, it is clear that the author had a dedicated passion for telling this story.
Many events stood out for me. In the author’s words, “the unfiltered sun at 12,000 feet on the plateau drew the world into sharp focus with startling clarity.”  I think his descriptions and attention to detail brought the story into “sharp focus and clarity” repeatedly. I felt the tension of the late night truck ride. I felt Choeden’s compassion as he helped the young children on their journey, risking his own life. There are others instances: Jamyang’s experience at Gyalpung base, Sergiu Matei’s paranoia and Benitez meeting with Dolma. That meeting, more than the shooting, brought me to the verge of tears. As a reader, I could identify more with the American entrepreneur and truly felt his emotions. At the same time, I tried to imagine what the Tibetans felt. I thought about how they left behind family. I thought about how they dropped the last of their worldly possessions on the side of the mountainous path. Some of them walked until their feet bled and they went snow blind. In the end, they risked their life on a treacherous glacier while being shot at. I tried to think about what might motivate me to take those risks. People are dying and sacrificing themselves, while we try to decide what Kindle book to download next. I went from the verge of tears to shedding them only a few pages later when Kelsang’s family received word of her death.
That, I think, is the subtle power of Jonathan Green’s book. In a way, it sneaks up on you. At the beginning, everything was foreign to me and I was introduced to so many people. At that moment near the end, I felt compassion and sorrow. As much as discovering a tragedy on the other side of the world, it also made me look at my own life. It made me want to do something to help those people, but I don’t have money or power. I realized that I could help them by doing something in my own life, with my wife, my children. Start small, teach them about truth and faith (things I hope I have been doing). Let those actions take root and grow into something better. Also, I could share the book. Tell people about it. That’s a start, so I strongly recommend this book to anyone that wants to feel human.

I would like to close with a quote in the book from His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama:

Never give up
No matter what is happening,
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up

About the author: Jonathan Green is an award-winning author and journalist. He has reported from Sudan on jihadist militias, the guerilla-controlled jungles of Colombia on the cocaine trade, corruption in oil-rich Kazakhstan, the destruction of the rainforest in Borneo and human rights abuses connected to gold mining in West Africa. He has been the recipient of the Amnesty International Media Award for Excellence in Human Rights Journalism, the American Society of Journalists and Authors award for reporting on a significant topic and Feature Writer of the Year in the Press Gazette Magazine and Design Awards. His work has appeared in Men’s Journal, the New York Times, Fast Company, the Financial Times, British GQ and Esquire and the Mail on Sunday among many other publications. Green has been interviewed about his work on CNN, the BBC, radio and television, and NPR among others. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife. (from the author’s website)

About the book: In 2006, an impulsive, naïve young Tibetan nun and her best friend, both yearning for religious freedom from Chinese rule, joined a group of fellow Tibetans desperate to escape to India, where the Dalai Lama has lived since the 1950 annexation of Tibet by China. Kelsang Namtso and Dolma Palkyi embarked on the brutal journey over the Himalayas. Smuggled by illegal guides past Chinese border police, the group braved freezing temperatures and snow, the high altitude, and perilous crevasses. Green alternates the refugees' trek with that of Luis Benitez, an American celebrity mountain guide leading a rich group of international clients to the Himalayan peak Cho Oyu. The two groups met on the peak as Chinese guards, alerted to the refugees' presence, chased after the escapees with machine guns ablaze, and Kelsang was killed in full view of the Westerners. One of Benitez's clients filmed the incident, which gained worldwide notoriety. Awkwardly written and poorly edited, freelance journalist Green's earnest chronicle trumpets his disdain for the exploitation of the Himalayas by rich, macho mountaineering novices, his hatred of Chinese Communists for human rights violations, and his reverence for Tibetan culture. (June) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

You can read 
Murder in the High Himalaya
on Amazon Kindle at this link: http://goo.gl/5c3Td

It is also available in paperback, on BN Nook, iTunes, IndieBound and GoogleBooks.

Links to more information:

Watch the documentary

(images borrowed from author's website)

1 comment:

  1. Tibet is without doubt one of the most remarkable places to visit in Asia. It offers fabulous monastery sights, breathtaking high-altitude treks, stunning views of the world’s highest mountains and one of the most likeable peoples you will ever meet.

    Tibet trekking