Invading Tibet

In 1904 the British send a military expedition into Tibet in order to force the Dalai Lama to sign a treaty designed to protect British interests in India. Begun in arrogance, the mission ends in “folly,” all of it, and more, observed by Edmund Candler, correspondent for the LONDON DAILY MAIL as he travels an ambiguous path that takes him through disillusionment to uncertainty and self-discovery. In 1986 Alex leaves Montreal and his university lectureship to follow, imaginatively speaking, in his great-great-uncle Edmund’s footsteps. He goes, however, not to Tibet, now under Chinese domination, but to the British Museum in quest of the private journal that will enable him to determine (if it exists, which it does) just how much of the Candler story is real and how much is myth, embellishment.

INVADING TIBET is a tale of two books (the one Alex finds, the other a gift that he loses before having the chance to unwrap it) and a tale too of several cities: of Montreal, London, above all (quite literally) Lhasa, which turns out to be no Shangri La but instead “a paltry affair” except for the Dalai Lama’s palace and the numerous pilgrims whom the English deride but Candler rather admires “for their resolve and the depth of their beliefs.” The reader comes to feel much the same way about the novel’s author, Mark Frutkin, himself a man of two countries (raised in the United States but living in Canada) and two religious sensibilities (the...

(The entire section is 409 words.)