The multigenerational memoir is an interesting beast. It allows for a great sweep of history, and brings to light stories that would not otherwise have been told. It’s a startling reminder of how much the world has changed, and how fast. Of course, one can’t help but wonder how true it ever is--is anyone completely honest with their offspring about their own young life? can anyone be completely honest in writing about their family?--but that’s a small price to pay for the amazing stories you get.
This book wants to be the [b:Wild Swans|1848|Wild Swans Three Daughters of China|Jung Chang|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348616647s/1848.jpg|2969000] of Tibet. It doesn’t have the breadth or the depth of Wild Swans, nor the background research, but it is a much quicker and easier read. It begins with the author’s grandmother’s life in Tibet: far from an easy one, but she fulfills her childhood dream of becoming a nun and is satisfied with it. She winds up marrying a monk and having children, which is unusual, but accepted. After the Chinese invade, the family flees across the Himalayas to India, where they live as refugees for years before the author’s mother marries a foreign student and they all move to Switzerland. The author’s life is the least interesting of the three--by which I mean, it’s interesting by everyday standards (she travels a lot, lives in three countries, gets arrested at a demonstration in Russia), but not so much by memoir standards (basically, she has an upper-middle-class upbringing and becomes an activist).
So, there are some great stories in the book, but the writing itself is bland. An interesting enough read, but one that would have been fascinating with more depth, more development, and better writing. The people don't quite come to life within the pages, and I wanted the author to dig a little deeper into their lives: for instance, there were a few indications that the grandmother's spiritual focus led her to be somewhat neglectful parent, but that's never developed, nor did I get a sense of how the mother's not starting school until age 13 affected her later in life. Of the places where the family lives, Tibet is certainly the most vivid; India and Switzerland fade into the background. For a pro-Tibetan activist the author does an admirable job of not giving in to the urge to idealize or turn her memoir into an op-ed, although there were a few moments when I thought she had that urge. Overall, a worthwhile read if you're interested in Tibet, but not one I'd recommend widely.