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Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family's Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom
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Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family's Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom

4.0 8
by Yangzom Brauen

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A powerful, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao’s Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy Himalayas toward freedom

Kunsang thought she


A powerful, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao’s Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy Himalayas toward freedom

Kunsang thought she would never leave Tibet. One of the country's youngest Buddhist nuns, she grew up in a remote mountain village where, as a teenager, she entered the local nunnery. Though simple, Kunsang's life gave her all she needed: a oneness with nature and a sense of the spiritual in all things. She married a monk, had two children, and lived in peace and prayer. But not for long. There was a saying in Tibet: "When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth." The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 changed everything. When soldiers arrived at her mountain monastery, destroying everything in their path, Kunsang and her family fled across the Himalayas only to spend years in Indian refugee camps. She lost both her husband and her youngest child on that journey, but the future held an extraordinary turn of events that would forever change her life—the arrival in the refugee camps of a cultured young Swiss man long fascinated with Tibet. Martin Brauen will fall instantly in love with Kunsang's young daughter, Sonam, eventually winning her heart and hand, and taking mother and daughter with him to Switzerland, where Yangzom will be born.

Many stories lie hidden until the right person arrives to tell them. In rescuing the story of her now 90-year-old inspirational grandmother and her mother, Yangzom Brauen has given us a book full of love, courage, and triumph,as well as allowing us a rare and vivid glimpse of life in rural Tibet before the arrival of the Chinese. Most importantly, though, ACROSS MANY MOUNTAINS is a testament to three strong, determined women who are linked by an unbreakable family bond.  

Editorial Reviews

By Western standards, her life in a remote Himalayan mountain village might have seemed impoverished, but Kunsang had everything she wanted: a fine husband, two beloved children, and a peaceful life at the monastery. But that serenity was crushed underfoot as tens of thousands of Chinese troops invaded in Tibet in 1950. Fleeing the mountainous country was dangerous; on her perilous journey, Kunsang lost the man she married and her six-year-old daughter. Mountain to Mountain pays tribute to two courageous women: Kunsang and her daughter Sonam. This soulful memoir was written by Yangzom Brauen, Sonam's daughter.

Publishers Weekly
Blending family memories with Tibet's troubled history with the People's Republic of China, Brauen reflects on three generations of women honoring their heritage despite physical, spiritual, and cultural exile. Her narrative begins nearly a century ago, when her now 91-year-old grandmother Kunsang became a Buddhist nun in a country where ritual and superstition fostered peace and stability within a rigid social hierarchy. Brauen recounts Kunsang's early years in Tibet and harrowing 1959 journey across the mountains to India with her husband and daughter, Sonam (Brauen's mother), to escape persecution from the Chinese; Sonam's awakening social conscience, marriage to a Swiss curator/activist living in the West, and career as an artist in New York; and Brauen's own conflicts as a Swiss-born political activist, actor, and model. Subtle humor lightens Brauen's urgent tone; for example, descriptions of Kunsang's and Sonam's first encounters with cutlery, and Brauen's "Pippi Longstocking childhood." Chapters in which, many years later, the family travels back to Tibet demonstrate how memory can soften harsh realities and disappointment, while Brauen's compassion inspires hope that Tibetans might one day achieve the justice they seek. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“This book paints a vivid picture of Tibetan experience over the last eight decades, one of the most difficult periods in our history. Through the personal stories of three women from one Tibetan family, it recalls the imposition of Chinese rule in Tibet and the subsequent efforts of many Tibetans to preserve their identity and treasured values in exile.” —His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

“A moving reminder that the consequences of the Chinese invasion of Tibet continue down to this day. A lovely memoir of three generations of Tibetan women.” —Oliver Stone

“The lives of three women embody a tragic Tibetan era -- at once grim and uplifting. A necessary book.” —Colin Thubron, author of To A Mountain in Tibet, Shadow of the Silk Road, and In Siberia

“Yangzom Brauen's Across Many Mountains held my rapt attention from beginning to end. It is the saga that finally tells in vivid human terms the real story of the Chinese destruction of Tibet, the sixty-one-year long, continuing Tibetan holocaust and diaspora. It is historically, emotionally, humanly real, and no one can read it without opening a place in their heart for these long-suffering, brave, and yet joyful individuals. I heartily recommend this wonderful book.” —Robert A. F. Thurman, Professor, Columbia University; author of The Central Philosophy of Tibet, Wisdom and Compassion and Why the Dalai Lama Matters

“The journey of the refugee--Cuban, Vietnamese, Libyan, Darfurian, and in the old days of the Cold War, East German and Hungarian--has special resonance for Americans because this country has provided sanctuary for refugees as far back as its founding. The drama is that of life and death and survival in exile. This stunning memoir is vivid and compelling, a clear-eyed rendering of the experience. A must read.” —Diane Wolff, author of Tibet Unconquered: An Epic Struggle for Freedom

“Yanzom Brauen recounts a gripping true story of her family and has kept alive the dreams of her grandmother.” —Kehdroob Thondup, co-author of Dalai Lama, My Son

“A multi-generational saga stitched together from memories passed down from her grandmother, Yangzom Brauen's Across Many Mountains has the tragic, epic quality of Kenji Mizoguchi's cinematic masterpiece, The Life of Oharu. With unadorned prose that is both searing and laced with verisimilitude, Brauen has written a book centered on the extraordinary journey of her grandmother that is one of both human suffering and perseverance in the face of it. Across Many Mountains is nothing short of a celebration of the human spirit.” —Rex Pickett, author of Vertical and Sideways

“The story of Kunsang and Sonam and Yangzom touches my heart because it brings back memories of life in Old Tibet. It tells the world exactly what it means to be a Tibetan refugee who loves her homeland deeply but at the same time is capable of adapting to life in the Western World. The courage and integrity and endurance of Kunsang and Sonam are astounding. I thank Yangzom for telling their story. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to know about the real situation in Tibet.” —Arjia Rinpoche, Director, Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and author of Surviving the Dragon

“Yangzom Brauen's Across Many Mountains, a triumphant tale of three generations of Tibetan women as they journey from Tibet to Switzerland, teaches us that there is much to learn from those who persevere in the face of injustice and the unknown. The courage of these women as they cross borders and learn the language of survival gives us insight into a country that remains a mystery to many, as well as enlightens the even vaster landscape of the human heart.” —Kim Sunée, New York Times bestselling author of Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home

“An absorbing, multilayered account of the evolution of an enduring culture.” —Kirkus Reviews

“If this was a movie you might accuse the writers of taking too many liberties with the truth. How could a young nun and young monk marry as Tibetan Buddhists? How could their young daughter survive the perils of a dangerous escape through the snow covered Himalayas and go on to marry a dashing Swiss academic? And then their daughter becomes the perfect blend of freedom activist and gorgeous Hollywood starlet--it defies belief. But not only is the tale that Yangzom Brauen weaves of three very different yet integrally connected generations a satisfying read, I guarantee that you will learn more about the struggle for Tibetan independence, the complexities of the Tibet-China relationship, and the principles of Tibetan Buddhism than you will glean from any Westerners' account. If you value exceptional storytelling, I urge you to read this book. If you care about human rights, women's issues and world peace, you must read this book.” —Christal Smith, The Huffington Post

“...a lyrical account of how cultures can mesh and enrich each other.” —Bookreporter

Kirkus Reviews

The experiences of three generations of remarkable Tibetan women over the course of a century.

Through the prism of her own life and that of her mother and grandmother, debut author Brauen illuminates a unique culture and its transformation under the repressive Chinese occupation of Tibet. Her story begins with the birth of her grandmother in the 1920s and concludes with the author's career as an actress and her activities in support of Tibetan liberation. Her grandparents spent their early years as members of a secluded monastic community in Tibet. When their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled the country to escape Chinese repression, her grandparents followed with their two daughters. Although the Brauen expresses great respect for her grandmother's spirituality, she is by no means uncritical of life in old Tibet, which, she writes, "was not a utopian Shangri-La, the blissful paradise on earth that people in the West like to conjure." The family's journey across the Himalayas was harrowing. When they arrived in India, they faced the brutal circumstances of life in a refugee camp lacking decent sanitary facilities, food and drinking water. Many died, including her father and younger sister. Her mother and grandmother were fortunate to find work with a Swiss-supported charity for Tibetan orphans, even though her mother could only attend school for a few years. When her mother was 17, she met Martin Brauen—the author's Swiss father—who had come to India to study Buddhism. After a prolonged courtship, they married and moved to Switzerland, taking her grandmother with them. It was there that the author and her younger brother were born. In 1986, the family visited Tibet for a joyful reunion with relatives. While recognizing that her grandmother's Tibet is inevitably changing, for her the Dalai Lama remains a cherished example of transcendent Tibetan spiritual values.

An absorbing, multilayered account of the evolution of an enduring culture.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.50(w) x 6.42(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt


 It is late autumn and the wind whistles across the dry, rocky fields and meadows. As I step out of the house a fierce gust pushes me aside, so strong that I have to tilt my body into its force. Mola stands with her legs planted wide, buttressing herself against the gale.  Mola means grandmother in Tibetan. My grandmother is a ninety-one-year-old Buddhist nun. In the tradition of all Buddhist nuns, her now snow-white hair is cropped close to her scalp, and she wears only red, orange, and yellow. Her floor-length Tibetan chupa billows out like a sail, and it takes all her concentration to keep her balance. My grandmother wants to perform kora.  For Tibetans, kora means walking around a sacred place absorbed in prayer, a kind of pilgrimage that can encompass hundreds of miles or only a few yards.

My parents, my brother, Mola, and I have all met here for a short family holiday. Life has scattered us: Bern, Zurich, Los Angeles, New York, and Berlin. If Tibet had remained Tibet, we would all be together in Pang, a remote mountain village in the southeast of Tibet, where Mola, along with my grandfather, a Buddhist monk, lived in a monastery. But my grandparents fled the country in the winter of 1959 when Chinese soldiers were destroying monastery after monastery, looting their treasures, leaving only rubble. Fifty years on, the country still suffers under the Chinese occupation. Every member of my family feels the pain of this.

Later in the day, when the wind has calmed and the bright red sun is sinking, Mola sits in front of her farmhouse altar and begins to sing. My brother and I often listened to her songs as children  but we haven’t heard her sing them for a long time now. In a voice that sounds a little shaky but is still clear and mild she sings to us of a long-gone, faraway world. Singing with a voice that tells us of Tibet, Mola sings as she sang as a young girl—and as a nun—when  she lived the life of a hermit in a hut high in the Tibetan mountains.

Back then, she would meditate at the first light of day. Now, toward the end of her long life, she meditates with the last rays of sunlight. She is free from pain, free from melancholy and sorrow. She is entirely here, in the present, entirely with us. She knows she will be leaving us one day soon, but the thought does not scare her. She is calm and composed; she does not cling to earthly existence. My mother—my amala—worships in a different way. As Mola sits by her altar, her butter lamps lit, my mother climbs to the small whitewashed Greek Orthodox chapel at the top of the hill above our house. She loves to go there at the end of the day, to light a candle, leave an offering, and pray. Often she is the only one there, but sometimes she is joined by a few villagers who pray to their Greek Orthodox god as she prays in Tibetan to her deities. Mola would never think of praying in another religion’s chapel. She must bring her own altar with her, no matter where she is. Meanwhile, I read books while lazing in the garden hammock, listening to the chickens and crickets and to the sound of Mola’s prayers emanating from the house. How different we three generations are . . .

When my mother has made her way back from the chapel on the hill, and Mola has finished her prayers, the three of us stand outside together to watch the sun set behind the mountains. This landscape of stone and sky looks almost like Tibet. That is why my family loves this place. Mola, Amala, and I fall silent as the last glow of the sun fades in the sky. I am moved almost to tears. I feel as if we are nearing the end of a long journey, a journey I want to share with you.

From Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Meet the Author

Born in 1980 to a Swiss father and Tibetan mother,YANGZOM BRAUEN is an actress, model, and political activist. She lives in both Los Angeles and Berlin and has appeared in a number of German and American films. She is also very active in the Free Tibet movement, making regular radio broadcasts about Tibet and organizing public demonstrations against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Visit her Web site at www.yangzombrauen.com.

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Across Many Mountains 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This fascinating book, among many other things, made me realize how lucky I have been all my life.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
Across Many Moun­tains: A Tibetan Family's Epic Jour­ney from Oppres­sion to Free­dom by Yang­zom Brauen is a non-fiction book which fol­lows three gen­er­a­tions of Tibetan women. The book is an insight into Tibetan's society. The book is the story of the author's grand­mother, mother and her­self. Start­ing in 1959, the story fol­lows Ms. Brauen's grand­mother, Kun­sang, as she escapes Tibet after the Chi­nese inva­sion. Kun­sang was stu­dyng to be a Bud­dhist nun but when she gets preg­nant Kun­sang gets mar­ried and gives birth to the author's mother, Sonam. Mother and daugh­ter escape to India where Sonam meets a Swiss man, falls in love and brings her fam­ily to Switzer­land. The last part of the book fol­lows Ms. Brauen's polit­i­cal activism to free Tibet. Across Many Moun­tains: A Tibetan Family's Epic Jour­ney from Oppres­sion to Free­dom by Yang­zom Brauen is sort of a cross between a mem­oir and a fam­ily his­tory of the author. The book starts with the inva­sion of Tibet by China and Ms. Brauen's grandmother's escape. Besides the excit­ing story, the book offers many insights into Tibetan soci­ety, cul­ture, beliefs and class struc­ture which I found very inter­est­ing. I don't know much about the Chi­nese inva­sion or Tibetan cul­ture and I'm glad to say I learned many things from read­ing this book. Even though the book tack­les some com­plex sub­jects, the writ­ing is sim­ple, elo­quent and the story is read­able. Even though the Chi­nese pro­pa­ganda makes them seem as the lib­er­a­tors of Tibet, most peo­ple, includ­ing many Chi­nese nation­als I can assume, know this is sim­ply that - propaganda. The author, an activist to free Tibet, tack­les not only the issues which her grand­mother had to tackle, but she also tack­les them from today's stand­point. After all, there is a whole new gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese which con­sid­ers Tibet part of China. This is an impor­tant book and I think Ms. Brauen did a great favor to the Tibetan com­mu­nity in Dias­pora and in gen­eral with this pub­li­ca­tion. I have never read any mem­oir of Tibetan refugees and what they went through. Not only a refugee, but a mother of a refugee who must sur­vive hunger, dis­ease, hos­tile locals and, what we would con­sider, slave labor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If anyone who has ever studied the history of Tibet well know how China invaded this beautiful country and culture, plus distroyed the tradtions, language and religion of peace. No one has done or will do anything about it. It is just another culture that is being wiped off the face of the earth. How sad it is that one has to escape their own country just to survive under the harshest of contditions. This book tells the world that Tibet is still a country and each one that is living there is a survivor. So many people have just disappeared under the China Government. The Dalai Lama, has no home, and cannot go home to his beloved country. Yet, he wins the hearts of all those who meet him, read about him, and the world can award him with The Nobel Peace Prize. His smile, even under the threat of terrorism that threatens his life and his followers everyday shows hope. What these women went through just to live in peace and justice is an example of the refugees that flee Tibet when they can in todays world. What happened to world peace . . . I often think there isn't any, unless we make our own. Read this beautiful book, and open up your heart to the Tibeten people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gives the reader an overview but not too much information on Tibet and hardships these women endured. It gives a great feeling for family and family connections of these three women. The Grandmother and Mother were so courageous and the daughter gives them great credit. Love and Tradition kept the family connected and supported them when life was difficult. I loved the way the author honored her past and heritage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago