Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Bone Mountain by Eliot Pattison

Several times I started Bone Mountain and couldn’t get into it. I love Pattison’s books – they are mysteries, but his mysteries are more about the process of solving the puzzle than it is about the solution. The process is indirect – we travel around Tibet with Shan Tao Yun, Chinese, but who crossed the bureaucracy in his investigation of corruption and ended up exiled in a Tibetan prison camp (Water Touching Stone) where, under the very worst circumstances, he finds a new way of looking at life, as he gets to know and respect the Tibetan monks in prison for their beliefs.

This time, when I started the book, it was as if I had never picked it up before. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. I kept finding passages I wanted to share – with you, with my other friends – this is an amazing book.

Shan and a a couple monks are on a mission to return a Tibetan relic to the valley from which the Chinese stole it, and are traveling with a group of sheep herders and salt gatherers to disguise themselves. The artifact gets stolen from them, but they continue on to the valley, discovering a hidden passage through the mountains, visiting a destroyed and partially rebuilt monastery, and learning about healing herbs and practices in Tibet, as we see medical practices in a whole new way.

One of the themes in each book has to do with the Chinese bureaucracy, harvesting Tibetan resources relentlessly, timber, minerals, etc. with no regard to the devastation their techniques leave behind, no regard for replenishment.

The other issue is the Chinese hijacking of the Bhuddist religion. The Chinese “re-educate” the monks, bringing Bhuddist thought into alignment with Chinese government goals. The new monasteries are no longer teaching true Bhuddist teachings, but are teaching corrupted and even heretical teachings. The true monks are roaming the country disguised as sheep herders, dung carriers, but are the true carriers of the teachings to the people. The bureaucracy grinds their teeth in frustration as the true monks continually slip through their fingers.

“Has this foreigner been gathering salt too?” he asked Lhandro in Tibetan.

“Just along to enjoy the fresh air,” Winslow quipped in Tibetan, and the monk stared at him, his eyes wide with wonder.

“An American who speaks Tibetan?” he exclaimed, and looked back with intense curiousity, at Lhandro and Shan, as though the news somehow changed his perspective on the party.

As you can imagine, I laughed out loud when I read that passage. We get that all the time, when my husband speaks Arabic and I can follow the conversation. We call it “the dog can talk!” look.

Avoiders. It was part of their particular gulag language, stemming from a teaching given in their barracks by an old monk, in his twenty fifth year of imprisonment, just before he died. Guns were avoiders, he said, and bombs and tanks and cannons. They allowed the users to avoid talking with their enemy, and allowed them to think they were right just because they had more powerful technology for killing. But those who could not speak with their enemies would always lose in the end, because eventually they lost not only the ability to talk with their enemy, but also with their inner deity. And losing the inner deity was the greatest sin of all, for without an inner deity, a man was an empty shell, nothing but a lower life-form.

Pattison hikes us through mountains and valleys, shows us medicinal plants, and talks about how it matters where and when and how they are mixed. We learn of the evil that exists in the best of us, and the good that exists in the worst of us. On our journey to solve a mystery, we gain a wealth of new understanding.

Available from for $10.17 plus shipping. (Yep, I disclose once again, I own stock in 🙂 )

October 21, 2008 - Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Spiritual |

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