“China drew a blanket of complete silence over Tibet,” writes Tsering Wangmo Dhompa of the twenty years following the 1959 Tibetan Uprising against Chinese presence in Tibet. Since that time, the country has gradually opened to travelers, who discover the formerly isolated state transformed by the Chinese intrusion. For those who have yet to access the border, Dhompa acts as an intermediary. The daughter of a prominent Tibetan nomadic family, born in exile and raised in Nepal and India and now residing in San Francisco, she effortlessly ushers readers across borders and between worlds.
Dhompa’s circumstances also leave her at a loss, searching for home and identity in her mother’s country. Her mother’s early death in a car accident while still in India places another barrier between the writer and her ancestral home. As an exile, Dhompa speaks for her scattered community: “We are alienated from our own past and from the future of the countries we live in. Where we are is the best we can hope for,” she writes. “We learn to be grateful.”
Dhompa’s memoir Coming Home to Tibet is her attempt to reclaim the past her mother bequeathed to her through stories and memories. She travels back to Tibet to meet what remains of the extended family she never knew, introducing the reader to the Tibetan nomadic lifestyle as she goes. Her deep respect for the elders of the community is evident in her careful record of their stories, from the brutality of the Cultural Revolution to a deeply rooted Buddhist faith that cultivates a calm acceptance of an often difficult state in life.
As the first Tibetan female poet to be published in English, Dhompa is doubly qualified to be a voice for the Tibetan people. Her lyrical prose not only conjures visions of the stunning landscapes of the Tibetan steppe but also communicates the longing of the exile who can glimpse them only through the stories of another traveler.