Review: Fire Under the Snow

Palden Gyatso with Tsering Shakya (trans.) London; Harvill Press, 1997). ISBN 1 86046 116

PALDEN GYATSO'S beautifully translated autobiography is now available in Canada. The character who reveals himself therein seems neither especially spiritual nor even political. (He does not, for example, discuss the disputes within the Tibetan exile community over the strategies for recovering their homeland.) He is above all an excellent journalist, recording with precision what he witnessed: the inhumanity, the momentous historical events of his lifetime, and the inspiring deeds of other remarkable prisoners during his 33-year incarceration.

Prisoners seem to have been transferred around a lot, and the prisons varied somewhat, though always Mao's influence could be found. Palden had made a red bag in which to hold the "Little Red Book," for he knew that for some prisoners spoiling the book had been punished by a death sentence. At last, of course, Mao dies and the rigor of the camp relaxes considerably; Palden is allowed to resume his craft, weaving carpets. Then by 1978 the prisoners are told to burn their red books, but Palden is not released until 1992. He is able to find a way to escape to India and goes to see the Dalai Lama, who listens to his story and urges him to write a book about his experience. It was good advice; this is a rewarding, upsetting, and important book.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1998

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1998, page 30. Some rights reserved.

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