In This Review

My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered Stone
My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered Stone
By Naktsang Nulo
Duke University Press Books, 2014, 344 pp

This unconventional memoir is a literary as well as historical treasure. Its spare style reflects the stoicism of an isolated nomadic community surviving on the Tibetan Plateau in the early 1950s. At age five, the narrator makes a 1,500-mile pilgrimage to Lhasa with his father and brother. Run-ins with wolves, bears, and bandits alternate with the benevolence of kindly strangers in dreamlike sequences that skirt the boundary between reality and myth. But things turn terribly real when the author, at age ten, flees with his clanmates before advancing Chinese troops, only to find himself in a prison consisting of holes in the ground, suffering through a famine. The story ends with the author and his brother in a Chinese-run school; he would later go on to serve as a local official in the Communist-led government. A lucid introduction by Robert Barnett (a colleague of mine at Columbia) shows how the author uses the “convention of childish innocence” to explore forbidden issues in Tibetan history, including the cruelty of the Chinese invasion but also that of the preinvasion Tibetan order.