Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green

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Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very compelling piece of current affairs in the high mountains of Asia. Well worth a very wide audience.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2010
Publisher: PublicAffairs
ISBN: 978-1586487140

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The Himalayan mountains mean many things to different people. To the people of Tibet, trapped under the atheist occupiers from China, who ran the Dalai Lama out in the 1950s in their consuming urge for lebensraum and mineral mining, they are a near-impenetrable barrier, protecting their country from history's prior ravages, but keeping people who want out, very much in. To rich Westerners, they are a sparkling challenge - a task of the highest order, a box to tick on the way to self-fulfilment - something to be climbed, because they're there.

This book starts by dovetailing two completely different lives. On the one hand, two young women from rural Tibet (as opposed to ultra-rural Tibet). One is a young firebrand, becoming a nun with feisty thoughts of revolution, or at least life elsewhere. Her best friend is much more liberal, and until China started thinking about their global image in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, someone the occupying powers would not hugely object to leaving. The other hand has a thrusting young gun in the world of mountain guiding - sprinting up Everest and in all the other noted mountain ranges as effortless as you like, but getting great renown and money from guiding the rich and healthy to the same peaks at a much slower pace. You would not expect the two worlds to collide as they did.

There is an artful way in which these worlds do converge, before the peak of the tale at the midway point here. We see the history of mountaineering in these heights as it fits in with story, with the Himalayas turning from something in the way, to a pie-in-the-sky aspiration, to something to make money of - and, at times and for some, as a spiritial ground that it always was to the local Tibetans. We see the young women managing to join a convoy of emigrants trying to flee over the least-guarded regular route out, on their way to join the other exiled Tibetans in India. And we see how completely ill-equipped they are for such an ordeal. At the worst, they and other people were traipsing through dangerous snows after ten days of being under-nourished. Gloveless children had discarded carrier bags on their hands as protection.

And then they encountered the border police. Who set chase - armed and dangerous - and lethally put paid to one of the two girls we've met. And all, luckily enough, perhaps, under the view and video cameras of our mountain guides, scaling Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak on Earth.

It's a compelling story, and Jonathan Green is a more than competent journalist to tell it. He suffers slightly in both sides of the tale - the more intimate details of the girls' story come across as a little false and fictionalised (not helped by copious made-up-names for the survivors). The exposition of the mountaineering is a bit better, until we meet important characters at misbalanced times in the telling. But the fact that the fatal events are in the centre of the book is a further sign that this was an affair that has a very dramatic fall-out, equally as readable and alarming as the build-up.

This book then becomes a hard-hitting look at an event of current affairs that I have to admit had completely passed me by. The video, smuggled out by a very wary journalist, became a youtube hit - again, in my ignorance. But the book goes further than the bare facts. It relays all the thoughts of all involved - the survivors, and their thoughts about what they were leaving and what they went through to do so, and the mountaineers, and their opinions about what they should do.

And while the film - the first footage of anti-Tibetan murders by Chinese occupiers since the 1950s - is a bullet to the head of the public opinion of China, so this book records all the echoes of the gunshot, as by the end we find just what a tortuous journey our author had to get the complete and unbiased truth - from either side.

The fact he has means we have to be grateful for the carefully balanced reportage he offers. And with the readability and competence of Green, this becomes an important book, and I wish it full success.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For background on Tibet, there is A Year in Tibet by Sun Shuyun. We also know of a hokum airport novel of some quality concerning slightly similar subjects - it's The Forbidden Temple by Patrick Woodhead.

Buy Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green at

Buy Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green at


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