Title: The 14th Dalai Lama
Author: Tetsu Saiwai
May Contain Spoilers
Since I have been reading more non-fiction than normal, I was delighted to receive this graphic novel about the Dalai Lama. I realized that I didn’t know anything about him, and the plight of Tibet was another subject that I am woefully ignorant about. Reading this manga about the Dalai Lama filled some gaps in my knowledge, and I found it an interesting read as well.
This biographical graphic novel tells the life of Tenzin Gyatso, a child who was declared the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be living manifestations of the Buddha, and they become the spiritual and political leaders of Tibet. The entire time I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think what a tremendous burden Tenzin Gyatso was asked to bear. When he was 5, he was taken from his home and moved to the palace, where he began his studies to prepare for ruling his people.
With his enormous responsibilities, he didn’t have much of a childhood. Kept separate from boys his own age, he could only watch from his window as they played. As he was tutored in his duties, a new threat made itself known. The Chinese began to subtly take control of Tibet, and there was little the Tibetans could do to stop them. Just their overwhelming numbers gave the Chinese an almost insurmountable advantage. It was like a cat trying to take on an elephant.
The book avoids the Dalai Lama’s more controversial decisions, but it does an effective job of introducing a very complex social and political issue. The Chinese steam-rolled into Tibet, and the young leader was helpless to protect his people or his nation. It is sobering to think that the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for decades, far longer than he actually resided in his own country, and it is doubtful that he will ever be able to return.
While I didn’t like the art, facial expressions effectively communicated the tense reactions of the unfolding events to the reader. There is a lot of dialog, and it flows smoothly and seems natural. There are some very intense emotional moments, and the young Dalai Lama’s frustration at his inability to drive out the Chinese rings true.
As a springboard for learning more about Tibet, The 14th Dalai Lama provides an interesting, easy to digest look at the Tibetan/Chinese conflict.
Review copy provided by publisher