Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Travel & Culture Week: Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

Seven Years in Tibet follows the astonishing true story of the Austrian, Heinrich Harrer, who became the teacher to the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Arrested and put into a prisoner of war camp in India, Harrer was determined to escape, planning to make his way to the Japanese frontier in an attempt to get home. But Harrer, and his companions, find that even the best laid plans can sometimes fail, and Harrer, along with his sole remaining companion, Aufschnaiter, find themselves welcomed by the Tibetan people and wanting to stay. After a journey through Tibet lasting nearly two years, they arrive at the capital, Lhasa. At first the pair are treated with suspicion and as strange commodities, but after a time, they integrate with the local people and come to think of Tibet as home.

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Most people who read my reviews regularly (presuming anyone does that that is!) is possibly thinking that it is strange for me to be reading a non-fiction book, and they would be right. As well as various other things I do, I work at a pub in my village and one of the regulars keeps telling me that I should read more biographies, and that he had one he thought I would like. So voila, he lent me Seven Years in Tibet, I started reading it on the plane, and finished before I went to bed.

I'm glad that I gave Seven Years in Tibet a go. Harrer's writing style is clear, informative and interesting, meaning that his story flows, well just like a story. I found that his prose style lent itself towards the style normally found in fiction books, which made it easy to read. For me this was a good thing as it meant that I really just wanted to keep turning the pages, but I guess that some people may not appreciate the style.

One major difference between the style of writing in Seven Years in Tibet and fiction is that the prose wasn't always in chronological order. Now for me this wasn't an issue as the prose was all linked together and flowed smoothly. I just though that it was worth mentioning, as especially with travel books, some people may prefer the diary style approach.

The focus of Seven Years in Tibet was fascinating, as it is all about the Tibetan and Buddhist way of life. I studied Buddhism as part of my RS (Religious Studies) GCSE (GCSEs are the qualification we do between ages 14- 16 in England in case you are unaware), so I do have a slight grounding in some of the customs, albeit a basic one. Saying that, the way that Harrer writes means that even someone with absolutely no knowledge of Buddhism whatsoever, could pick up Seven Years in Tibet and understand, and perhaps more importantly, could learn.

Seven Years in Tibet was enlightening, interesting and page turning. One that should be read!