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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

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