book review: the open road

I really like Pico Iyer’s writing. A lot. His thoughts on globalization of people ring through me and I just want to pass of his thoughts as my own. (I try not to.) In putting together a display at the branch, I found Iyer’s book The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and promptly took it out and devoured it.

Iyer’s been following the 14th Dalai Lama since he was a kid. As a teen his father and this monk became friends, so he’s had access for years, since long before the DL became a household image. This book is about how the DL is able to talk to westerners and to petitioners and lead a country in exile while trying to impose democracy all while never seeing his followers. It’s a complicated story and the book bounces around in time, hitting the DL’s life in terms of his different roles. There are talks with people who don’t necessarily agree with him, Tibetans who advocate for stronger action than forgiveness while their country disappears.

The book also doesn’t shy away from the weirdness of Tibetan Buddhism, which I appreciate. It’s not like it’s just a happy fuzzy warmness. Even while the DL expounds on what sounds like religionless religion to the world, he has to deal with these intense doctrinaire struggles within his own faith. I mean, there are certain sects of Tibetan Buddhists are asked not to attend some of his public prayer meetings.

It’s a fascinating book. I especially liked the descriptions of Dharamsala. A buddy and I spent a week there back in 2003 and the description of stunned foreigners out looking for something and Tibetan youth who could cynically use their tragic history to find their way out. What I loved was its concreteness. Iyer has an eye for detail that makes the book much more worth reading than the nonfiction things I’ve read recently. It’s all the details that make it a book you can’t sum up in a sentence. The details aren’t supporting an argument they are the argument, which feels exactly right somehow.

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