The Last Dalai Lama

Why another account of the life of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, especially one that extends only to his 1959 flight to India? Besides his autobiography, which this book often quotes, there are John Avedon’s more extensive IN EXILE FROM THE LAND OF SNOWS and Roger Hicks and Ngakpa Chogyam’s GREAT OCEAN: AN AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, both published in 1984. Why go over the same ground yet again?

Amazingly, Michael Harris Goodman manages to make the old story fresh and to unearth some new details about the Dalai Lama’s early years, thanks in part to extensive interviews with His Holiness’ brother and childhood companion in the Potala, Lobsang Samden. Moreover, Goodman spins a good yarn. The material is already there, to be sure, but Goodman infuses it with more life--and less subjective commentary--than does Hicks, and because his subject is not as far-reaching as Avedon’s, he can afford to linger over the fascinating minutiae of pre-Chinese Tibetan life.

Here is the Dalai Lama’s mother dressing to ride to his father’s home in the next village as a seventeen-year-old bride; there, the regent of Tiber “under a gold umbrella, dressed in robes of golden silk and a yellow conical hat trimmed with black fox skin, his horse draped in brocade with a gold knob between its ears and led by two grooms"; and the four-and-a-half-year-old Dalai Lama at his first ceremony, where he was already observed to possess “the infallible...

(The entire section is 440 words.)