This book’s self-effacing title disguises the fact that Thondup, an elder brother of the Dalai Lama, is one of the most important figures in the history of the Tibetan diaspora. For many years, Thondup was the go-to Tibetan interlocutor for foreign governments and China. The book is full of tales of international intrigue, recounting Thondup’s meetings in the 1950s with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai-shek, who Thondup says personally paid for him to attend college. Thondup also claims that he was the CIA’s contact person in Tibet and that he even managed the agency’s clandestine base in Nepal. Later, when Deng Xiaoping came to power in China, Thondup writes that he was summoned to Beijing to discuss renewed negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama. Still, Thondup offers very few substantial revelations about Tibet’s recent history. And the book is marred by speculation that verges on conspiracy theorizing; indeed, in a postscript, Thondup’s co-author, Thurston, actually questions the veracity of Thondup’s story. In Thondup’s telling, the 1987–89 protests in Tibet were engineered by foreign governments and Beijing’s negotiations with the Dalai Lama were sabotaged by the Indian government. These are fascinating allegations, but Thondup offers little evidence to support them.
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