Review published on May 18, 2016.
This is a reissue of a book first published in 1962 by an author hitherto unknown to me. The style is of its time but now seems slightly old fashioned. Difficult to classify this blending of thriller, adventure, treasure, romance, war, intrigue and the history, superstitions and rituals of northern India and Tibet.
Houston’s brother fails to return from filming in India and although the foreign office says he has died, without a death certificate there is no closure. Houston is convinced that Charles is alive and heads off east to find him. Bureaucracy, officialdom and the ‘manyana’ attitude of the various agencies are of little assistance and the conflicting reports of where and when his brother was last seen increase Houston’s determination to at least retrace his brother’s path. One source claims Charles and his party died in an avalanche in the autumn while someone else recalls seeing him in December.
What follows is a boy’s own adventure. With the help of Ringling, a local guide, and an out of date map Houston travels north from India into the Himalayas, climbs mountains, sleeps rough on minimum rations, and almost dies in the process. The descriptions of Houston’s journey across the Himalayas is so vivid I could picture the rhododendrons, feel the intense cold and glimpse the distant valleys. The description of the filthy conditions in which they slept was stomach churning.
Once Houston and his guide eventually make it to Yamdring Monastery in Tibet the story takes on an ominous dark quality with sinister tales of dark practice. This monastery is no haven of peace, rather it participates in odd religious rites, sorcery and unpleasant rituals that may be conducted at will. Charles finds himself the centre of attention becoming involved with a she-devil leading to such fantastic scenes that may have been a depiction of opium use. This section of the book I felt was laboured, repetitive and over written. However, the latter part of the book picked up speed and became an edge of the seat thriller that was so much more interesting than the incarceration in the monastery.
The author’s knowledge of China’s oppression of Tibet and subsequent invasion in 1951 is well documented and gives the book a sense of real history. Sixty years later it would be interesting to know what has changed in that region. The prologue (which I do not recommend you read first as it is a spoiler) claims much of the book is based on fact.
This is a very intense book, a rip roaring adventure story, that demands total commitment from a reader. Not sure that I would read any more from this author despite his obvious skill as a writer but I am very impressed with his dexterity in dealing with this complicated and intricate plot and his cast of hundreds.
Sheila A. Grant
The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson
Faber & Faber pb978-0-571-32682 PBK MAR 2016
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