House of the Turquoise Roof
By Dorje Yudon Yuthok, edited by Michael Harlin.
Snow Lion Publications, Inc.: Ithaca, 1990,
330 pp., paper, $14.95.


book2This autobiography of a Tibetan noblewoman describes, in exhaustive detail, life in her homeland before the Chinese invasion, and the subsequent turbulence that led to flight and exile for so many thousands of her countrymen and women. The book chronicles the ancient genealogical lines of noble families and the Dalai Lamas, and the subtle complexities of family and social structure in a land where both polygamy and polyandry were legal. It is also an earthy portrait of the practical daily routines of domestic, commercial, and political-religious life at the heart of their existence.

The structure of the book is often eccentric: a narrative on childbirth religious ceremonies and the author’s own personal history is followed by a dense and fascinating chapter on Tibetan jewelry and the ways it was worn by various classes of women. At moments the effect is stupefying to an outsider-in its dogged attention to detail it is rather like rummaging through an old steamer trunk in an elderly relative’s attic: here, a random drawer full of gorgeous old brooches and gloves and fans; and here, a compartment full of faded letters, which curiosity tempts us to read, but discretion bids otherwise.

But the reader persists through the genealogical, historical, and householder’s inventories-particularly if we know anything of the tragedy which has befallen this culture-simply because, in its final effect, it conjures the soul of a people. And this is all the more poignant coming after three decades of systematic and deliberate destruction of Tibetan land, culture, and people by the Chinese.

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