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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Book Review: Falling to Heaven

July 30, 2010

By Philippa Logan
The Oxford Times (UK)
July 29, 2010

Falling to Heaven is an evocative title for a
book set in a region that is believed to be the ceiling of the world.

Jeanne Peterson’s novel (Oneworld, £8.99) is set
in Tibet, at the highest pass of the Himalayas.
It’s 1954, when silence reigns, apart from the
flapping of prayer flags, and where life really
is heavenly. That is, until the arrival of Maoist
soldiers, who turn everything upside down —
lives, morality — and heaven becomes hell.

The story follows the lives of an American couple
and their Tibetan neighbours. Emma and Gerald
have come on foot to a remote Tibetan village,
intending to make it their home. They have
sorrows in their past, and present sorrows too,
but are full of hope as they are welcomed by
their Tibetan neighbours, Dorje and Rinchen. That
hope vanishes from both families in one fell
swoop with the arrival of the Maoists, and Gerald is captured and taken away.

Emma is left with the unexpected joy of pregnancy
and the deepest reaches of despair; Gerald has to
suffer unimaginably at the hands of his Chinese
prison guards. Dorje and Rinchen’s family is torn
apart as one son tries to stay faithful to his
pacifist beliefs, and the other son chooses the
path of violence as he leaves the monastery to fight with the resistance.

Successive chapters are narrated alternately by
the various characters in the story, lending
their different voices and different viewpoints,
different experiences. The hope and happiness at
the start of the book is replaced with faith in
adversity and resolution of spirit.

The story is an agonising one, and all the more
emotive for being based on the truth. In Falling
to Heaven, Peterson has created an intensely
evocative book, uplifting and heartbreaking in equal measures.
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