9 Months in Tibet
Rupert Wolfe Murray (Scotland Street Press, £12.99)
RUPERT WOLFE Murray overcame ‘23 years of writer’s block’ to produce this book. Thankfully, he stuck at it. his wacky, witty, off-the-cuff tale from this famously faraway land has been compared to books by laurie lee.
Typically obtuse, he journeys to the roof of the world to overcome the fear of travelling alone. he talks to everyone he meets, usually doing the opposite of what anyone suggests, and finally arrives in lhasa, where he becomes an english teacher. everything about lhasa he relishes: its ‘casual exuberance’ and the Tibetans’ ‘immense warmth, raunchiness and spontaneous spirituality’, so unlike ‘religiosity in the west’.
he not only goes anywhere, with a preference for places he shouldn’t be, but he eats anything. always hungry, he is never ill.
The itinerant Scotsman is asked to travel overland to China. Will he come? Of course. The journey is on horseback: fine (he doesn’t ride). The expedition leader, however, is Bettina, a beautiful German girl, whose rigorous routine the impulsive Mr Wolfe Murray finds testing. as they ride into northern Tibet’s bleak, unpopulated mountains, the mood shifts gear.
honest at all times, and without bravado or self-regard, he finds himself inspired by his determined companion. Then, a horse eats bad plants and dies. The author has to take home the second horse, leaving the redoubtable Bettina soldiering eastwards alone. Suddenly, the hitherto larky tale is tense with flailing emotion. Finally, he is ejected from Tibet when he witnesses the Chinese military crushing a spasm of mild protest from initiate Buddhist monks.
This book represents a story of magnetic attraction between a previously detached peripatetic writer and an ancient, peace-loving people lethally squeezed by contemporary imperialism. Not only is the author in the right place at the right time, he is the ideal observer. Michael Wigan