“Go to Tibet,” the Dalai Lama famously instructs, “and then tell the world about it.” Charlie Carroll has done just that with his new book Peaks on the Horizon: Two Journeys in Tibet. The two journeys, told in alternating chapters, are Carroll’s account of his lifelong fascination with Tibet that eventually drove him to visit “the roof of the world” and the re-imagined story of Lobsang, a Tibetan national who fled to Nepal at the age of five. The chapters carrying Carroll’s travelogue are nicely balanced between Tibetan history and descriptions of its landscape and people. Carroll is especially passionate about the country’s struggle for independence and bemoans the oppressive presence of the Chinese occupiers, evidenced almost everywhere he travels in Tibet. Lobsang’s engaging story reveals the disorientation of a child growing up in exile who, as a young man, must come to terms with the injustice of his family’s expulsion and his brother’s deathby Chinese border guards. When his fellow student and lover, Drolma, returns to Tibet after their studies in Delhi, Lobsang faces a dangerous illegal border-crossing if he is to reunite with both his love and his homeland.
The two narratives dovetail beautifully to present a powerful portrait of place. Lobsang’s story puts a human face on the facts Carroll presents, animating his research and justifying his journey. Carroll’s explorations, in turn, provide a solid background to Lobsang’s story, filling in bits of Tibetan history that the reader might miss when confined to the third person perspective of the Tibetan exile. Their stories artfully intersect at key points, bridging gaps in storylines and creating an emotional charge whenever they meet. When Lobsang is invited into a nomad’s tent for chang, for example, the reader recognizes the traditional Tibetan beer because Carroll learned of it in the previous chapter.
These overlaps become more pronounced and increasingly potent as Lobsang’s tale accelerates to a climax. While Carroll waxes poetic at the base of Mount Everest—“This was Tibet in perpetuity for me: A sky-wide and lonely land of delicate brown deserts, fierce-white mountains, and milky-blue rivers fed by snowmelt, which coursed through stone and ice,”—Lobsang learns of Drolma’s dangerous involvement with the Tibetan resistance group “Stone and Ice.” “Right now, we are in an ice age,” a friend explains the pro-Tibetan slogan to Lobsang, “and China is covering Asia with its thoughts and people. But stone, you see, is resistant to ice…for no matter how long an ice age lasts, it will always melt in the end, and the stone will always win.” As Drolma is imprisoned and Lobsang’s plight becomes desperate, Carroll and Lobsang finally meet along the Tibet-Nepal border. Here, at an obscure bar off the Friendship Highway, their storylines reach a catharsis—even if all the Westerner can offer his new friend is the chance to tell the world his story.