Jonathan Mirsky

Little brother’s helper

Gyalo Thondup, brother of the Dalai Lama, recalls in detail his many years directing Tibet’s foreign policy. But can we believe him?, asks Jonathan Mirsky

Can there ever have been another book in which one of the authors (Anne Thurston in this case) so effectively pulls the rug out from under the other?

Of course Gyalo Thondup is entitled to tell his story, beginning with his life as a boy in a small town near the Tibet-China border where, in 1937, his younger brother was identified as the 14th Dalai Lama. He recalls everything from then on without a shadow of doubt: his family’s long overland trip to Lhasa, their transformed, luxurious life there, his trips to China, India, Taiwan and Hong Kong, learning Chinese and about China, and marrying a Chinese woman. He further describes being wooed by governments and intelligence agencies — having been entrusted by the Dalai Lama with foreign affairs — as well as his contacts with Nehru, Chiang Kai-shek and Deng Xiaoping. Perhaps of greatest interest to Tibet-watchers is his account of his early involvement with the CIA, and the agency’s encouragement, sponsorship and eventual abandonment of anti-Chinese resistance inside Tibet.

The narrative shifts from one country to another as Thondup bargains, argues and makes deals about Tibet’s fate, occasionally seeking approval from the Dalai Lama. He moves, also, from hope to disillusion, as he is wooed, coaxed, tempted and invariably let down. He never misses an opportunity to blast the Tibetan upper class for its naivety, corruption and blindness to the realities. Finally, giving up, he moves with his wife to Kalimpong and settles down to noodle-making — thus giving the book its faux-modest title.

If one wishes to understand Gyalo Thondup’s story, the central dilemma, Thurston seems to be saying, is OK, this is his version, there are other more believable Tibetans — she gives their names, especially one who is ‘a man of exceptional integrity’ — but my job here is to write what Thondup tells me.

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