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Reviewed by:
  • The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama
  • Alick Isaacs (bio)
Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama (New York: Grove, 2006), 383 pp.

Halfway through The Story of Tibet, Laird pays a bribe of five hundred dollars in cash to a Chinese gentleman (“who must remain anonymous, so he will not be imprisoned”) for admittance to the secret upstairs private rooms of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Left there for two hours to photograph murals that detail the history of Tibet, Laird provides the reader with a description of lost and hidden treasures that grips and (when one considers its original audience) also stings. The account he gives of his more than fifty personal conversations with the fourteenth Dalai Lama leads the reader to an understanding of what history itself means in Tibetan Buddhism. Laird’s reports of these conversations cover many aspects of Tibetan history, but the most fascinating one explored is metahistorical. Laird explores with the fourteenth Dalai Lama how belief in reincarnation establishes connections between past and present that the Western reader will find unfamiliar. Processes of historical change attain to consistency as the plots and plans of individuals have so much more time to unfold over the course of several incarnations. One is given a sense of an entire nation’s history as a series of trials in a single master journey leading, slowly, toward its destiny — one that the Dalai Lama hopes will culminate in peace. It is in this light that Laird’s book concentrates on the fourteenth’s personal history and his struggles with the Chinese invasion and domination of Tibet. Here his gentle blend of acquiescence, defiance, and self-criticism are on intimate view as he continues his struggle for Tibet with determination but without the bitterness that comes from attachment. [End Page 484]

Alick Isaacs

Alick Isaacs teaches Jewish history at the Hebrew University and is a research fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is associate editor of Common Knowledge for history, religion, and special projects, and is currently writing a book about prophecy and peace.



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