…[Thubron] has come to be known for his ability to summon just the right phrases to fix a place or person in the mind's eye. In To a Mountain in Tibet, however, what seems almost as striking is [his] understanding of the power of silence. …Thubron has, as always, thoroughly researched his subject, so his descriptions of shadowy Buddhist shrines and wildly various religious supplicants are interspersed with eloquent accounts of Tibet’s place in the imaginings of the West and its own welter of myth and history, as well as colorful views of the flora and fauna of a landscape that can at times seem alluringly pristine, at others as alien as a distant planet.
The New York Times
“The mountain path is the road of the dead,” writes Thubron (Shadow of the Silk Road) in this engrossing and affecting travel memoir that transcends the mere physical journey. In the wake of his mother’s death, Thubron sets off to Mount Kailas in Tibet, a peak sacred to one-fifth of the world’s population and the source of four of India’s great rivers. Kailas has never been climbed: the slopes are important to Tibetan Buddhists who say the mountain’s guardian is Demchog (a tantric variant of Shiva). Along with two guides, Thubron embarks on a pilgrimage that begins in Nepal and crosses into Tibet, recounting not only his arduous journey but also the political and cultural history of Tibet and the West’s continued fascination with its mysticism. Along the way, he observes pilgrims of various religions converging on Kailas and the myriad monasteries, most of which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt decades later. It is the poignant evocations of his mother and sister (who died at 21), interwoven with his profound respect for the Tibetan culture and landscape that make Thubron’s memoir an utterly moving read. (Mar.)
“Thubron’s descriptive writing is as dazzling as the scenery. His scholarship on the area’s religious and political history is enthralling.”
Booklist (starred review)
“The journey is the reward, for both writer and reader, in this rich, beautiful account of the landscape, people, culture, and politics of Tibet.”
Christian Science Monitor
“[Thubron has] been called one of the world’s greatest living travel writers. Few will doubt it, after they accompany him on this search for earthly sanctity.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)
“With great elegiac precision…Thubron adroitly navigates the difficult line between an emotive personal memoir…and a vivid description of one of the most spectacular mountain journeys…”
National Geographic Traveler "Book of the Month"
“One of the greatest contemporary travel writers. . . . As he guides us along these braiding trails, Thubron’s moving evocation makes for an unforgettably enlightening journey.”
Wall Street Journal
“Thubron has spent four decades writing in forceful and respectful ways of foreign lands, and To a Mountain in Tibet is no exception.”
“More meditative than his sweeping Shadow of the Silk Road. . . . Walking with Thubron up the sacred mountain, strenuous as it is at times, is well worth the effort.”
“One of the greats of contemporary travel writing . . . Thubron’s transcendent prose places the reader directly on the path to Kailas, culminating with the final glimpse of the sacred site.”
New York Times Book Review
“Thubron has, as always, thoroughly researched his subject, so his descriptions of shadowy Buddhist shrines and wildly various religious supplicants are interspersed with eloquent accounts of Tibet’s place in the imaginings of the West...”
Los Angeles Times
“Thubron is a versatile painter of place…an expert guide for the region’s complex topography…He is refreshingly clear and unintimidated…”
“Thubron walks for the dead and writes for the living, and I can’t remember when I have been so thoroughly and deeply moved by an author’s outward journey.”
“Like the works of Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, Thubron’s gorgeous, evocative writing transcends the genre and reads like great literature.”
Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
"With great elegiac precision…Thubron adroitly navigates the difficult line between an emotive personal memoir…and a vivid description of one of the most spectacular mountain journeys…"
“A masterpiece of travel writing...”
“Not only the most revealing book he has ever published but also the most profound. . . . The telling . . . is masterly, with that sharp poetic eye for detail that is Thubron at his best.”
From the Publisher
"Engrossing and affecting...poignant evocations of his mother and sister, interwoven with his profound respect for the Tibetan culture and landscape, make Thubron's memoir and utterly moving [listen]." Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"Book of the Month" - National Geographic Traveler
"One of the greatest contemporary travel writers. . . . As he guides us along these braiding trails, Thubron’s moving evocation makes for an unforgettably enlightening journey."
"The journey is the reward, for both writer and reader, in this rich, beautiful account of the landscape, people, culture, and politics of Tibet."
Best-selling author Thubron's approach to this book differs slightly from that of his other work (e.g., Shadow of the Silk Road). His mother, last of the family, passed away as he began this extraordinary journey. Mount Kailash, a mountain sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, has never been climbed, only circumambulated. It is similar to the Ganges or Mecca—followers want to visit or be buried there. Thubron quotes monks, pilgrims, porters, guides, and fellow travelers to enliven his work. He vividly describes the physical world he treks—e.g., he writes, "yaks have shabby petticoats and their tread is slow, almost delicate." More moving are his profiles of people who make the journey in thin shoes and flimsy clothing. They are joyous despite suffering, loss, and the dislocation of everything they value.Verdict Thubron's own journey of grief and his search for understanding heightens his experience and augments his descriptions of believers he observes. This personal narrative will enrich readers interested in memoir, travel, and Tibet. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/10.]—Susan Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL
Novelist and acclaimed travel writer Thubron (Shadow of the Silk Road, 2007, etc.) chronicles his trek to Mt. Kalias, "the most sacred of the world's mountains."
The book opens with the author traveling across northern Nepal toward Kailas, a 22,000-foot mountain in Western Tibet. Considered holy to the adherents of four religions and one-fifth of humankind, Kailas beckons to pilgrims and travelers alike. Thubron's reasons for undertaking the arduous trek across magnificent but desolate lands at the "roof of the world" were personal rather than faith-based. His travel party—comprised of "a guide, a cook, a horse man, myself"—reflected the private nature of his journey, which actually began the day he lost his mother. The author sought to mark the passing of the last member of his birth family by going "somewhere meaningful on the earth's surface." The closer Thubron drew to Kailas, however, the more he found himself inexorably drawn into the mystical heart of Tibet's "death-haunted culture." Western objectivity fell away, transforming an impartial observer of monks, pilgrims, temples, monasteries, religious relics and end-of-life rituals into a very human seeker struggling to come to terms with the transience of human existence and the fact of his own aloneness, both as a man and a writer. Travel offered no freedom from the pain of surviving (or dying); it only brought "an illusion" of change that temporarily distracted rather than cured. Yet Thubron still found a kind of grace in the unexpected cross-cultural connection he experienced with the Tibetan poet-yogi, Milarepa. However alien the terrain, a shared humanity with Tibetans rendered the author's experience of loss universal rather than unique. Emotional subtlety and vivid evocations of the people and places are only part of what makes the book so enjoyable. The present-tense narration allows readers make discoveries alongside Thubron, which adds immeasurably to the intimacy and immediacy of the reading experience.
A powerful and hauntingly elegiac hybrid of travelogue and memoir.