Andreas Gruschke

Book Reviews

Books reviews
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Heavy Earth, Golden Sky
Tibetan Women Speak about Their Lives

Edited by Michelle Kleisath, Heavy Earth, Golden Sky: Tibetan Women Speak about Their Lives. Ort: Lulu 2007, 142 pp, approx. € xy,-
ISBN 978-0-615-17305-4

Tales of real life in Tibet

For a long time Tibet and the Tibetans have been regarded from the spiritual side only. Hardly any Westerner allowed them to be other than passive victims of policy or spiritual media between religious people down on a heavy earth and deities high up in the golden sky. How surprising must it be for idealistic readers to learn that people on the Roof of the World are also human beings with mundane longings and physical desires, with strength and altruism, but weakness and indifference, even maliciousness as well.

Tibetans are highly active people in most what they are doing, and it is meritorious of the editor, Michelle Kleisath and her Tibetan colleagues, to give redaers worldwide access to real Tibetan life by the stories published in this volume. We can hear about Tibetan women at last, and of their life, their sorrow and happiness, by their own voices, and not by well-meaning, yet self-styled western amateurs who tell about the innate feminism of Tibetan society, but only reflect how the West believes it be rather than it really is.

Having traveled and done research in Tibet for almost a quarter of a century, I have seen too many sad life routine of Tibetan women. Sometimes I got tired of talking into my western compatriots that in Tibetan society, like in other places of the world, women often have much graver problems than the common Tibet image suggests. So it is due time that Tibetan women tell of those.

Now we have a fine collection of short stories, built around the life-biographies of young Tibetan women grown up in simple nomad families or poor peasant households. And yet they have made their way – with support or against the resistance of their respective communities – through the educational system. They have studied hard and eventually learnt this foreign language, English, in which they talk to us directly. They see themselves enabled and obliged to tell about how their country and people are. As simple as the narrative scheme might look like – for the baseline of their young life is the same and follows their course of education – as interesting are the different living backgrounds and experiences of these Tibetan women. We read of changing living conditions of a family after their gold mine collapsed and vivid memories from contemporary Tibetan childhoods interwoven with custom and culture. One author begins with one of her first impressive memory of childhood–a group of pilgrims on their way of hardships to Lhasa, the holy city, and thus starts to muse over her own young life, while others tell of family violence at a neighbor’s or of people resettled after a hydropower dam had been built and all the resulting problems. We feel like intimate guests of the authors’ families since we get to know their feelings and thoughts and thus are given extraordinary insight into Tibetan youth.

These autobiographic stories are a great pleasure to read. Maybe it is the fresh air of educated (former) nomads and peasants, who have become curious and questioning, open to the rest of the world after they realized how wide it is, which makes the reading so authentic and unsullied. The collection of twelve women's short life stories in this book give us a more detailed insight into the every-day life of countryside Tibetan society, of its problems and desires, than most methodical studies, and at the same time they are very entertaining. I hope, Dawa Drolma, Samtsogye, Lhamotso and the other young Tibetan writers will have the chance to catch many readers. It's a great book offering great insights.

© Andreas Gruschke

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