A gripping portrait of modern Tibet told through the lives of its people, from the bestselling author of Nothing to Envy.
“You simply cannot understand China without reading Barbara Demick on Tibet.”—Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition
Just as she did with North Korea, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick explores one of the most hidden corners of the world. She tells the story of a Tibetan town perched eleven thousand feet above sea level that is one of the most difficult places in all of China for foreigners to visit. Ngaba was one of the first places where the Tibetans and the Chinese Communists encountered one another. In the 1930s, Mao Zedong’s Red Army fled into the Tibetan plateau to escape their adversaries in the Chinese Civil War. By the time the soldiers reached Ngaba, they were so hungry that they looted monasteries and ate religious statues made of flour and butter—to Tibetans, it was as if they were eating the Buddha. Their experiences would make Ngaba one of the engines of Tibetan resistance for decades to come, culminating in shocking acts of self-immolation.
Eat the Buddha spans decades of modern Tibetan and Chinese history, as told through the private lives of Demick’s subjects, among them a princess whose family is wiped out during the Cultural Revolution, a young Tibetan nomad who becomes radicalized in the storied monastery of Kirti, an upwardly mobile entrepreneur who falls in love with a Chinese woman, a poet and intellectual who risks everything to voice his resistance, and a Tibetan schoolgirl forced to choose at an early age between her family and the elusive lure of Chinese money. All of them face the same dilemma: Do they resist the Chinese, or do they join them? Do they adhere to Buddhist teachings of compassion and nonviolence, or do they fight?
Illuminating a culture that has long been romanticized by Westerners as deeply spiritual and peaceful, Demick reveals what it is really like to be a Tibetan in the twenty-first century, trying to preserve one’s culture, faith, and language against the depredations of a seemingly unstoppable, technologically all-seeing superpower. Her depiction is nuanced, unvarnished, and at times shocking.
About the Author
Barbara Demick is the author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize in the United Kingdom, and Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Demick is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and a contributor to The New Yorker, and was recently a press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“You simply cannot understand China without reading Barbara Demick on Tibet. Her work is fair-minded, chilling, awe-inspiringly rigorous, and as vivid as cinema. Eat the Buddha is a warning to anyone who tries to analyze China through its cities: You will misread the future if you overlook the war over diversity and the struggles for cultural survival.”—Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition
“Barbara Demick has produced an elegiac narrative of a frontier town that is a hotbed of resistance on the Tibetan plateau. With novelistic depth and through characteristically painstaking research, Demick offers a poignant reminder of the enduring power of memory to illuminate untold histories. Eat the Buddha is an exemplary piece of storytelling.”—Tsering Shakya, author of The Dragon in the Land of Snows
“Deeply and meticulously researched, Eat the Buddha tells the story of the beautiful area of eastern Tibet, land of the fabled Mei kingdom, where the Tibetan people have thrived in a majestic environment for several millennia, only to suffer horrifically in the last seventy years with the invasion and colonization by the Communist Chinese. Demick is to be given highest honors for her unflinching account, and her readers will be rewarded with a transformative encounter with the real lives of some extraordinary people.”—Robert A. F. Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor Emeritus, Columbia University
“Barbara Demick’s new book is essential reading for anyone interested in China and Tibet. The reporting is rich, the writing is beautiful, and the stories will stay with you. I couldn’t put it down.”—John Pomfret, author of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom
“Writing with pristine clarity made possible by complete fluency in her complex material, Demick provides the missing human dimension in coverage of twenty-first-century Tibet, including the legacy of resistance that has engendered tragic protests by self-immolation, and all the anguish and paradoxes of lives heavily surveilled by the Chinese government, yet largely invisible to the greater world.”