In My Hands Today…

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama’s Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero – Stephan Talty

7980563On the evening of March 17, 1959, as the people of Tibet braced for a violent power grab by Chinese occupiers—one that would forever wipe out any vestige of national sovereignty—the twenty-four-year-old Dalai Lama, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, contemplated the impossible. The task before him was immense: to slip past a cordon of crack Chinese troops ringing his summer palace and, with an escort of 300, journey across the highest terrain in the world and over treacherous Himalayan passes to freedom—one step ahead of pursuing Chinese soldiers.

Mao Zedung, China’s ruthless Communist dictator, had pinned his hopes for total Tibetan submission on controlling the impressionable Dalai Lama. So beloved was the young ruler—so identified with his country’s essence—that for him to escape might mean perpetual resistance from a population unwilling to tolerate an increasingly brutal occupation. The Dalai Lama’s minders sent word to the Tibetan rebels and CIA-trained guerrillas who waited on the route: His Holiness must escape—at all costs.

In many ways, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was unprepared for the epic journey awaiting him. Twenty-two years earlier, government search parties, guided by prophecies and omens, had arrived at the boy’s humble peasant home and subjected the two-year-old to a series of tests. After being declared the reincarnation of Tibet’s previous ruler, the boy was brought to Lhasa to learn the secrets of Buddhism and the ways of ultimate power. Forced in the ensuing two decades to cope with aching loneliness and often stifling ritual—and compelled to suppress his mischievous personality—Gyatso eventually proved himself a capable leader. But no previous Dalai Lama had ever taken on a million Communist Chinese soldiers bent on stamping out Tibetan freedom.

To keep his country’s dream of independence alive by means of a government in exile, the young ruler would not only have to brave battalions of enemy soldiers and the whiteout conditions waiting on the slopes of the Himalayas’ highest peaks, he’d have to overcome a different type of blindness: the naïveté intrinsic to his sheltered palace life and his position as leader of a people who considered violence deeply taboo.

His mind made up, the young Dalai Lama set off on his audacious journey to India while behind him a Chinese army rolled over Lhasa, its advance hunter patrols in fierce pursuit of the man they most coveted. The 14th’s escape was an act of daring and defiance that represented Tibet’s last hope, and so the world watched, transfixed, as the gentle monk’s journey unfolded.

Emotionally powerful and irresistibly page-turning, Escape from the Land of Snows is simultaneously a portrait of the inhabitants of a spiritual nation forced to take up arms in defense of their ideals, and the saga of an initially childlike ruler who at first wore his monk’s robes uncomfortably but was ultimately transformed by his escape into the towering figure the world knows today—a charismatic champion of free thinking and universal compassion.

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In My Hands Today…

A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews

13374“Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing,” Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village. Not the East Village in New York City where Nomi would prefer to live, but an oppressive town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada.

This darkly funny novel is the world according to the unforgettable Nomi, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion and in the shattered remains of a family it destroyed. In Nomi’s droll, refreshing voice, we’re told the story of an eccentric, loving family that falls apart as each member lands on a collision course with the only community any of them have ever known. A work of fierce humor and tragedy by a writer who has taken the American market by storm, this searing, tender, comic testament to family love will break your heart.

In My Hands Today…

Europe in the Looking Glass – Robert Byron, Jan Morris (Foreword)

13225981Three rich young Englishmen cross pre-World War II Europe in an old car with a mixture of laugh-out-loud humor and perceptive commentary on art and architecture

Turning a corner we suddenly found ourselves sliding down a precipice, tilted so far forward that it was necessary to hold ourselves back with our hands pressed against the dashboard, as half a dozen Apennine valleys beckoned invitingly below. Here [St Peter’s] Popes with black faces and golden crowns are wallowing twice life-size in the titanic folds of marble tablecloths, their ormolu fringes festooning upon the arms of graceful skeletons to disclose some Alice-in-Wonderland door or the grim hinges of some sepulchral grill . . .

Best known as the author of The Road to Oxiana, published in 1937, Robert Byron had developed his considerable writing skills on this travel book which has not been in print since 1926. It describes a journey Byron made with three friends, driving across Europe between two world wars, and mixes political and historical analysis with architectural insights, classical scholarship, and the day-to-day adventures of three young and not very experienced travelers. For fans of Robert Byron’s work this will be a discovery; for others it will be an introduction. Includes nine original sketches made by the author during his travels.

In My Hands Today…

Deadly Web (Inspector Ikmen #7) – Barbara Nadel

951083A naked teenage girl is found dead near the beautiful Byzantine Yoros Castle in Turkey. She has stabbed herself through the heart but there is evidence of bizarre sexual practice. In another part of Istanbul, a young boy seems to have committed suicide in similar circumstances. What dark rituals could have compelled them to fatal self-abuse? Inspectors Cetin Ikmen and Mehmet Suleyman follow an internet trail that leads them to an underworld of Goth nightclubs and Satanic worship. But even those murky shadows hide more than they reveal and the answers to an ever increasing number of suspicious deaths is more shocking and terrible than they could ever have imagined.

In My Hands Today…

Family Life – Akhil Sharma

22253764We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family s new life.

In My Hands Today…

Girl at War – Sara Nović

23209971Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.