A Story of Three Women Who Crossed Many Mountains

She’s a model and an actress and she’s written a book. Not a string of words that tends to stir thoughts in my mind about great literature. But, today I’d like to tell you about a possible exception. I want to tell you about a new book. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve just put it on my list. The author’s name is Yangzom Brauen. I’d never heard of her before. It seems that she is a Swiss actress and model who’s been in a number of Swiss films and on a Swiss television series.  Maybe you’ve seen her in the handful of Hollywood films she’s made: Pandorum, Cargo, Movin’ In, Aeon Flux. I haven’t.

Yangzom Brauen is no Alpine Paris Hilton, though. Not even a Swiss Snooki. This model and actress is also a political activist, and a courageous one at that. On the left is a photo of her in 2001 being arrested in Moscow for protesting the choice of China to host Olympics in 2008. Moscow is one of the last places in the world I would want to get arrested. At the time, Brauen was serv­ing as pres­i­dent of Tibetan Youth Congress in Europe. Her father is a Swiss anthropologist and her mother, a Tibetan artist.

In 2009 she published a autobiography, Eisenvogel. Apparently, it’s more than just a biography, it’s the story of three generations of Tibetan woman: Brauen’s Tibetan grandmother, her Tibetan mother, and herself. By the way, her grandmother, who’s in her 90s, is a Buddhist nun.

The book was a bestseller in Germany and Switzerland and St. Martin’s Press is publishing it here in the U.S. on September 27, 2011. Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom (translated by Katy Darbyshire) is described as “A powerful, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao’s Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy Himalayas toward freedom.”

If you go the Amazon page for the book, you’ll see she’s gotten some rave reviews from the likes of the Dalai Lama, Oliver Stone, Robert Thurman and others. I ran across an excerpt of Across Many Mountains and I liked what I read. Here’s the first paragraph:

It is late autumn and the wind whistles across the dry, rocky fields and meadows. As I step out of the house a fierce gust pushes me aside, so strong that I have to tilt my body into its force. Mola stands with her legs planted wide, buttressing herself against the gale.  Mola means grandmother in Tibetan. My grandmother is a ninety-one-year-old Buddhist nun. In the tradition of all Buddhist nuns, her now snow-white hair is cropped close to her scalp, and she wears only red, orange, and yellow. Her floor-length Tibetan chupa billows out like a sail, and it takes all her concentration to keep her balance. My grandmother wants to perform kora.  For Tibetans, kora means walking around a sacred place absorbed in prayer, a kind of pilgrimage that can encompass hundreds of miles or only a few yards.”

You can read the entire except here. And learn more about Yangzom Brauen at her website.

I like simple, evocative writing and that’s what I got from the except. Across Many Rivers has been out in the UK for several months and the comments on Amazon along with several advance reviews here have been somewhat negative about the writing. But you never know. I once judged a book by its cover and it turned out to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century (Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany).

In any case, some 30 years ago I read In Exile From The Land of The Snows, John F. Avedon’s compelling, and I suspect still definitive, account of the Tibet story. I feel like its time for another one and Across Many Rivers looks promising to me. I thought I’d tell you about it, and about Yangzom Brauen. You know, just in case you’re interested . . .

2001 photo: Blick.ch/Keystone

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