Tuesday, April 27, 1999

From Heaven Lake

by Vikram Seth

As a graduate student in Nanjing University, Seth used his vacation to hitchhike home to Delhi via Tibet.  The result is a wonderful book, full of witty observations, good, clear prose and profound meditations on India and China.  It’s a fresh and interesting perspective to this American reader: there is very little comment on the lack of cleanliness or crowded conditions, as travelers in the West often harp about.  Also, Seth is happy to give the Chinese political system the benefit of the doubt: where an American traveler assumes the flaws and reports the good, Seth assumes that China works and treats the flaws as unavoidable as with any system.  He is as angered by the bureaucracy as Western travelers are, but at least he made it to Tibet.  His descriptions of that region are revealing and hopeful: the people seem happy when he talk to them, but great evils are in the very recent past, and they have not forgotten.  A rich, fascinating book.

four stars

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