From the Publisher
“When Sis opens the red lacquered box that has sat on his father's dresser for decades he finds the diary his father kept when he was lost in Tibet in the mid 1950s...As the story of the elder S°s's journey into the heart of Tibet unfolds...S°s begins to come to terms with what the loss of his father for that time meant to him, then and always.” Booklist
“Extraordinary.” Starred, Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this visually enticing, magically appealing, oversized volume, Czechoslovakian-born illustrator Sis applies his considerable gifts to painting a spellbinding portrait of his father's experiences in Tibet, where he was sent in the 1950s to instruct the Chinese in documentary filmmaking. Vladimir Sis was actually drafted by the Chinese government to record the construction of a highway from China into Tibet; he was to be gone more than two years, unable to communicate with his family. During that time, China invaded the neighboring country, and Sis senior witnessed events he dared not describe even after he returned home, except through "magical stories" he related to his son. The diary he kept during his sojourn in Tibet was locked in a red box, which his son only saw for the first time in 1994, when he received a cryptic message from his father: "The diary is now yours." Here Sis re-creates a facsimile of the diary with excerpts handwritten upon parchment-like backgrounds on double-page spreads brimming with pencil sketches of the events described (e.g., "The road looks like a cut into a beautiful cake"). He then magnifies the more uncanny aspects of the journal via the tales told to him by his father, recollected from childhood, which are printed on the succeeding spread. One entry describes a boy wearing bells who tracks down the filmmaker in the middle of nowhere to deliver a letter from his family; Sis then follows with "The Jingle-Bell Boy," festooning the account with a trail of rhododendron-leaf markings that lead his father ultimately to the Dalai Lama. The guileless prose of both father and son makes Sis's juxtaposition of the journal records with his own childhood memories all the more poignant. The luminous colors of the artwork, the panoramas of Tibetan topography and the meticulous intermingling of captivating details and the mystical aspects of Tibetan culture make this an extraordinary volume that will appeal to readers of all ages.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
When Peter Sís' father calls him to Prague and tells him the red box and its contents are now his, Peter's childhood memories are reawakened. The Czech government sent his father, a filmmaker, to China in 1950. His job was to document the construction of a highway into Tibet. As Peter reads the diary of his father's time in Tibet, he is reminded of stories his father told upon his return; stories that made Tibet sound like a fairy tale country. He has taken parts of the diary and retold the tales in this beautifully illustrated book. The illustrations clearly delineate the sections: the diary accounts are on parchment-colored pages, the stories are on white with a family picture in which his father is only a white outline, while the Tibetan landscapes are in full-color on double page spreads. With each section of the diary and its accompanying story, readers are brought back to his father's study in Prague. We sense the author's mood as the light of the room changes from red to green to blue to black. Sís' mandalas are full of intricate detail and Buddhist symbolism. He has successfully combined personal reminiscence and childhood longing with his father's eyewitness account of the invasion of Tibet in a beautifully executed picture book format.
The noted illustrator/storyteller recounts his father's two years trapped in Tibet.
School Library Journal
Through personal memories, old tales, and intriguing pictures, Sis opens a door to the little-known land and religion of Tibet. There is a room, a study, in a house in Prague where a red box waits to be opened. It holds a diary of a long ago journey to Tibet made by the author's filmmaker father, sent to record the building of the first road from Communist China into the high mountains of Tibet. The room appears again and again, suffused with the colors of memory. Throughout the book are small sketches and large landscapes, and handwritten diary pages on yellowed sheets with the texture of parchment. Similar in structure and art style to Sis's The Three Golden Keys (Doubleday, 1994), this book is more solidly grounded in the reality of an adventurous journey to central Asia. Then, like a nest of boxes, it reveals layers of memory, tales of Tibet and, finally, references to the present era of political oppression and the hopes that rest on the singular figure of the Dalai Lama. Most intriguing are the eight full-page illustrations inspired by circular, symmetrical patterns and detailed symbols of the Tibetan wheel of life, creatively adapted to the text. Who will venture to study and decipher this artful book with its postmodern structure, its mysterious figures, and its interweaving of past and future? Adults will see the book as a way to introduce children to the geography, culture, and religion of Tibet. Attentive young people will be drawn to puzzle out the meaning of the stories and pictures. Art-conscious readers of all ages will appreciate the author's groundbreaking, creative use of the picture-book format in ways that challenge both eye and mind.-Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
A grown man reads through a diary of his father's travels in China and Tibet, written long ago and kept locked away for many years in a red box. Sís grew up in Prague in the '50s, where his father Vladimir worked as a filmmaker. Ordered by the Communist authorities to make a documentary of a road construction in China, Vladimir becomes separated from his film crew and lost in Tibet. His diary describes his wanderings in that strange and magical place: to find his way home, Vladimir hikes through endless mountain ranges, is given shelter by Buddhist monks, and eventually meets the Dalai Lama himself. Beautiful illustrations of Tibetan-style art, illuminated reproductions of Vladimir's diary, and richly colored landscapes, all by the author, combine with the haunting story of a young boy's longing for his absent father to create an enchanting and delightful piece of work.
Read an Excerpt
A father's diary, an artist's memoir.
By the author of the best-selling Three Golden Keys.
While my father was in China and Tibet, he kept a diary, which was later locked in a red box. We weren't allowed to touch the box. The stories I heard as a little boy faded to a hazy dream, and my drawings from that time make no sense. I cannot decipher them. It was not until I myself had gone far, far away and received the message from my father that I became interested in the red box again . . .
In New York, Peter Sís receives a letter from his father. "The Red Box is now yours," it says. The brief note worries him and pulls him back to Prague, where the contents of the red box explain the mystery of his father's long absence during the 1950s.
Czechoslovakia was behind the iron curtain; Vladimir Sís, a documentary filmmaker of considerable talent, was drafted into the army and sent to China to teach filmmaking. He left his wife, daughter, and young son, Peter, thinking he would be home for Christmas. Two Christmases would pass before he was heard from again: Vladimir Sís was lost in Tibet. He met with the Dalai Lama; he witnessed China's invasion of Tibet. When he returned to Prague, he dared not talk to his friends about all he had seen and experienced. But over and over again he told Peter about his Tibetan adventures. Weaving their two stories together - that of the father lost in Tibet and that of the small boy in Prague, lost without his father - Sís draws from his father's diary and from his own recollections of his father's incredible tales to reach a spiritual homecoming between father and son. With his sublime pictures, inspired by Tibetan Buddhist art and linking history to memory, Peter Sís gives us an extraordinary book - a work of singular artistry and rare imagination.