Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices

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The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel is the definitive biography of the explorer Lawrence Durrell called "the most astonishing woman of our time." Alexandra David-Neel was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned; few have led a life of adventure to equal hers or made so much of it.

In Tibet and Sikkim, David-Neel lived among hermits and shamans while studying first hand the secret mystical practices of Tibetan Buddhism, including out-of-body...

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Overview

The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel is the definitive biography of the explorer Lawrence Durrell called "the most astonishing woman of our time." Alexandra David-Neel was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned; few have led a life of adventure to equal hers or made so much of it.

In Tibet and Sikkim, David-Neel lived among hermits and shamans while studying first hand the secret mystical practices of Tibetan Buddhism, including out-of-body travel, telepathy, vampiric shamanism, and tantric sex. After returning to France, she wrote more than thirty books, among them My Journey to Lhasa and Magic and Mystery in Tibet. She has had a profound influence on Beat culture and the emergence of American Buddhism.

Drawing from rare source material, including information obtained from the secret files of the India office, Barbara and Michael Foster have written a vividly detailed chronicle-of both David-Neel's quest to conquer her personal demons and of the outer journey that made her one of the most celebrated figures of her day.

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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
Enigmatic in her own right, this Frenchwoman born in genteel circumstances in 1868 led a life of intrigue and adventure that influenced modern radical thinkers such as Beats Kerouac and Ginsberg. Feminist, opera singer, mystic student, adventurer, she was the first European woman to enter the holy city of Lhasa. An intrepid explorer, she trekked through the Himalayas disguised as a beggar, accompanied by her adopted Sikkimese son, Yongden, stalking and photographing snow leopards and studying the practices of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1927 she wrote her first book, My Journey to Lhasa. Both a flamboyant personality and a private person, David-Neel periodically reinvented herself, rising Phoenix-like in a fresh persona. In 1968 Jeanne Denys published a volume called A David-Neel au Tibet, asserting that David-Neel had never performed the feats of which she had written. Authors Barbara and Michael Foster refute this accusation, and with their access to first-hand information from people who knew her and hitherto unavailable documents from the India office, they present a fascinating portrait of this indomitable explorer of the inner and outer terrain. Victoria Williams, daughter of the British Trade Agent who received the bedraggled David-Neel as she emerged from the wilds of Tibet, replied, when asked why David-Neel persisted in her quests, "Why? To show that a woman could do it!" KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Overlook, 329p. illus. bibliog. index., Boatner
Arlene Blum
An important and well-researched account of the like of one of the world's outstanding explorers, travelers, and Buddhist scholars.

-Arlene Blum, author of Annapurna: A Woman's Place

Hugh Richardson
In a triumph of determined research, Barbara and Michael Foster have followed the varied and little known events in the life of this extraordinary woman -- courageous and fiercely independent... a difficult person but rich material for this vivid and absorbing story.

-Hugh Richardson, Britain's last diplomat in Tibet and author of A Cultural History of Tibet

Kirkus Reviews
The authors' affection for their subject is warmly communicated in this biography of David-Neel (1868, 1969), the French Tibetophile who was the first European woman to explore the once forbidden (to foreigners) city of Lhasa. The Fosters already have one biography of David-Neel to their credit (Forbidden Journey, 1987). In their preface to this book, they present it as an entirely revised edition of the earlier one, incorporating information gleaned from additional source materials and interviews. The authors' characterization of their subject's many writings, "witty and entertaining," applies as well to their own.

The biography opens as a movie might, on David-Neel's surreptitious departure from Lhasa in May 1924, after having entered illegally following a perilous journey. Succeeding chapters flash back to her childhood, marriage, and first journeys east, culminating in the great trek by foot to Lhasa. The final chapters on the end of her life, back in France, also review her major writings, which include autobiography, novels, translations of Tibetan texts, and studies of Buddhism. The many epithets used throughout the book, in lieu of the heroine's name—the seeker, adventurer, pilgrim, scholar, orientalist, iconoclast—give some feel for the scope of her character and work. The authors present her as a Tantric mystic who scorned mystification; an ascetic who laid carpets in her Tibetan cave-dwelling; a radical democrat who, a colonialist still, condescended to her adopted Sikkimese son: in short, as the union of opposites that many deeply religious people are. The authors' principal concern is that David-Neel be remembered for her part in preserving Tibet'sreligious legacy, especially now that it is under attack, through the texts she translated and saved for the West, including Tibetan versions of works no longer available in the original Sanskrit from the early Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna.

From the joint talents of the authors (a librarian and a novelist) comes a winsome biography that takes its subject more seriously than itself.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585673292
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Foster has written extensively in women's studies. She is assistant professor in the library department at Hunter College, City University of New York. Michael Foster is the author of Freedom's Thunder and other novels.
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