Manoa 12.2 (2000) 178-180
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The Voice That Remembers: A Tibetan Woman's Inspiring Story of Survival
Literature & Culture
The Voice That Remembers: A Tibetan Woman's Inspiring Story of Survival by Ama Adhe as told to Joy Blakeslee. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1999. 272 pages, paper $14.95.
The Voice That Remembers, Ama Adhe's moving account of the Chinese invasion of Tibet and her twenty-seven-year imprisonment for organizing a women's resistance movement, is both deeply disturbing and inspiring. In striking contrast to her horrific experiences as a prisoner--torture, rape, starvation, forced labor, medical experiments, beatings, and interrogations--the tone of her narrative is calm and matter-of-fact.
As the title suggests, this book is not only about Adhe but also about remembering those who did not survive, "whose bones have become part of a land now tread by strangers." She weaves her personal story with those of fellow prisoners, friends, and family, including her brother Jughuma, who helped protect the Dalai Lama during the events that led to his exile. Her story is also the story of Tibet as a country and the desperate struggle to save its culture and religion from destruction.
Adhe was born in 1932 in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham. The book's first section, "Before the Years of Sorrow," describes her childhood in the mountains and vividly portrays family members--many of whom would lose their lives under Chinese rule. "Even now as I close my eyes," she begins, "I can recall my first memory--laughing, spinning, and falling in fields of flowers beneath an endless open sky."
That relatively carefree life, steeped in Tibetan tradition, did not last long. In 1950, when Adhe was eighteen and newly married, the Chinese invaded Kham. She describes the methodical way in which they took control: lulling the people into a false sense of security by feigning respect for their religion and promising to stay only a short while. These promises were broken when the Chinese built an airstrip and roads and brought in more soldiers. By 1955, the Chinese had declared religion useless and begun the systematic looting and desecration of Buddhist monasteries. Many monks were killed. Others were arrested, publicly humiliated, imprisoned, and forced to cut down sacred forests or slaughter animals--both of which were against their religious beliefs.
The Chinese presence in Kham had a profound effect on Adhe's personal and religious life. Shortly after speaking out against the Chinese, her father died in a hospital under suspicious circumstances. Next, her husband was poisoned and [End Page 178] died before her eyes. Now alone, she had a young child and was two months pregnant. "I didn't know what to do," she writes. "My sorrow turned to anger and then to a conviction of determined responsibility."
This determination led Adhe to create an underground network of Tibetan women who gathered information for the men fighting in the mountains. Under torture, one of the resistance members confessed Adhe's participation, and the Chinese arrested her. She gives a gripping account of the soldiers arriving at dawn to drag her away from her crying three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. She would never see her son again, and when decades later she was eventually reunited with her daughter, they would not recognize one another.
In prison, Adhe was interrogated and tortured. Her brother-in-law Pema was shot in front of her, his blood spilling on her dress as she begged the Chinese to kill her, too. They refused, saying, "If we kill you . . . it will be over too quickly. We want you to suffer for the rest of your life."
For the next twenty-seven years, Adhe was tortured, starved, beaten, and shunted from one foul prison to another. "When one is imprisoned," she writes, "the smallest sound takes on a magnitude of importance. The sound of approaching feet can mean that someone is about to be tormented. . . . The sound of a bird means that it is light...