In two weeks I've heard to author's talks about their new books and they couldn't have been more different. First I heard Canyon Sam [improbably name but apparently hers] speak in a most disjointed and confusing way about her book, Sky Train, which is only incidentally about the train to Lhasa, Tibet and mainly about both the plight and the strength of Tibetan women during the 60 years of occupation by Chinese in Tibet. She is supposedly a performance artist but she did no performing and spoke unconvincingly, as if she were much more ignorant of her subject than, in fact, her books shows she is, although she admits to an irritating, although very usual ignorance and naivete about Tibetan history and situation.
I purchased the book only because she has a section about Rinchen Dolma Taring, a woman I am Quite interested in. But I am now reading the book and find it full of important information about the current plight of Tibetans, especially in Lhasa - it is so wrenchingly sad I can only read about half an hour a day. The malicious destruction of the Tibetan culture and as many Tibetan people as possible [by destruction I mean extinction -- a holocaust!] makes me quite sick. This is a sincere [but awkwardly written -- I think editors are to blame as much as the author] book that will not reach nearly the audience it deserves. That, too, is painfully sad.
On the other hand I heard this evening a brilliantly presented talk by Jon Turk, a story teller by avocation, an anthropolosgist by profession, and an extreme adventurer, who writes about shamanism among the reindeer people of Siberia -- who have been dispossessed of their reindeer due to many circumstances all of which can be traced to the Communists -- but in this case not with the malice and murderous intent of the Maoist Chinese in Tibet.
Turk had a schtick and presented it charmingly. His book may have a larger audience; his publisher is more mainstream and they have arranged a nationwide book tour for him and he will speak intelligently and charmingly as he did tonight. He even told us that this was a terrible day for him because it is exactly the 5th anniversary of the day his wife was killed in an avalanche.
Turk's reindeer people live in far eastern Siberian, now in Soviet style towns. They are not nomadic like the small group of reindeer people I met on the shores of Lake Kosovo in Mongolia. And of course both his group and the Mongolians are far less comfortable than the Suomi, or Lapplanders, I met in Rouvememi in Finland. The shamanic tradition is alive, if not at all well, possibly dying out forever in Siberia, although apparently not among the nomads -- although it is the nomads themselves who are likely to die out.
I recommend both books to people who care about cultures as a part of our human ecology. When we lose a culture, we lose their wisdom and both these cultures had great wisdom that is needed to supplement what we in the so called "first world" consider our own wisdom.
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