Sunday, December 27, 2020

Liechtenstein: Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer

This is not the book I wanted to read for Liechtenstein. Written by a man who was born and died in Austria, and recounting, as referred to in the title, his time in Tibet, it would seem to have little connection to Liechtenstein. But so far I have failed to find anything else, and I did find a copy of this book cheaply on a second hand table. As Ann Morgan, also unable to find anything else, read it for Liechtenstein, and claimed that the author spent some years there and was living there when he wrote the book, I decided to do the same. Harrer was in India, planning a mountaineering expedition in the Himalayas, when war broke out and he was interned by the British at Dehra Dun. Chafing at his confinement, he managed to escape on his third attempt, and with another mountaineer, Peter Aufschnaiter, made his way to Tibet, then largely closed off to the western world. Remarkably, he made his way to Lhasa where he became a tutor to the young Dalai Lama. The picture given of the intellectual curiosity of the young boy is remarkable. But the Chinese were pressing at the borders, and eventually Harrer, followed by the Dalai Lama himself, had to escape Tibet, where it is clear he would have preferred to stay longer. I was fascinated by the picture given of Tibet. Until I reread Ann's review, I didn't notice that the book somewhat patronized the Tibetan people. But I did note that the author often referred to aspects of Tibet in the present, even though he was writing after the Chinese invasion when things would surely have changed. And apparently he did manage to get back to Tibet in the 1980's, and wrote another book in which he was both saddened and heartened by the changes he saw, and by the resilience of the Tibetan people. A worthwhile read (whatever one might think of Harrer's supposed Nazi background), but I am still hoping to find a book that will enlighten me as much about Liechtensten.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Kazakhstan: Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Prose

As I move further through this project, I find that the remaining countries become more and more difficult to source books from. So I was pleased when I saw this collection on our library's list of new acquistions a few months ago. "Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Prose" was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Republic of Kazakhstan and published by the National Bureau of Translations in association with Cambridge University Press in 2019. That of course was the English translation, but it was published in total in 6 UN languages and 60,000 copies distributed to universities, libraries and research centres across 93 countries. Clearly this was a project which comes with an agenda - all the stories in the more than 600 pages reflect various aspects of Kazakh culture, mainly focusing on the conflict between the traditional nomadic and rural way of life with collectivisation under Soviet rule, and modern city life. Indeed, the preface stresses that this was the purpose behind the project, initiated by the first president of the republic of Kazakhstan. At first I found the stories blending into each other, with the settings similar enough that the same footnotes, explaining various items of vocabulary, repeated for each story - the "auyl" - traditional village unit - "zigit" - a young man of a certain age group, with leadership qualities more fully explained in the text, and so on. The similarity was probably enhanced by the arrangement in chronological order of the author's birthdate. There were very many by authors born in the 1940s. So I skipped towards the end and read some that were written by considerably younger authors. I also noted that almost all the authors, from a large number, were men, with only two female writers represented. Nevertheless in the more than 600 pages, there was enough variation to give a much better understanding of a country I had previously known little about. If more governments initiated such a project, the job of finding reading matter from the remaining countries on the list would be much easier.