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Reviews & praise for Murder in the High Himalaya
Reviews for Murder in the High Himalaya:
At the heart of Jonathan Green's new book is an ugly encounter that underscores both China's barbarous treatment of Tibetans and the West's confused, thin-blooded response to it. In September 2006 Chinese border guards shot dead a 17-year old nun, Kelsang Namtso, in front of dozens of international mountaineers on a pass between Nepal and Tibet. A Romanian climber filmed the killing, which was broadcast around the world.
The barren atmosphere that overshadows Namtso's impoverished upbringing is reinforced by a tyranny of petty interference by Chinese officials. After becoming a nun against her family's wishes, she set off on a pilgrimage to meet the Dalai Lama, in exile in India. Despite Chinese efforts to stop the practice, some 2,500 to 3,500 Tibetans make the journey each year.
The 12-day journey was a mini-epic. Namtso's group of 75 pilgrims dealt with feckless traffickers and local Tibetan informers. Many had only polythene sheets with which to protect themselves against the Himalayan cold. Only 41 of the group stayed the course to reach the 19,050 ft Nangpa La Pass.
The foreign mountaineers, depicted as a horde of questionable egomaniacs, were gathered nearby at the base camp of Cho Oyu, the second most popular Himalayan peak after Everest. The roof of the world is a crowded place where one can procure sushi and prostitutes, and where the indulgences of wealthy Westerners stand in contrast to the plight of poor locals.
The border guards fired on the pilgrims as they crossed the pass, minutes from the border. "They are shooting them like dogs," said the Romanian, as he filmed. Namtso's murder presented the mountaineers with a problem. Some guides wanted to prevent news of the incident from leaving camp as they feared the Chinese would retaliate by banning them from the mountain. Against heated squabbling, though, several climbers contacted the media and the murder made international headlines. By personalising Namtso's life and death, Mr Green has conjured in the flesh an otherwise anonymous figure from Tibet's shadows.
– The Economist (June 2010)
A word is missing from the subtitle of Jonathan Green's shocking exposé: cowardice. It shines out of his story of the murder of the 17-year-old Tibetan nun, Kelsang Namtso.
It happened on 30 September 2006, at the base camp on Cho Oyu in Tibet, the sixth highest peak in the world. Forty teams of Westerners, who had paid up to $20,000 each for the trip, waited there for their turns to climb. To make the wait more comfortable, hundreds of yaks and porters had carried quantities of wine, sushi, TV films, pregnancy-testing kits, condoms and M&Ms to about 20,000 feet. Into this scene, half an hour from the Nepalese border, exhausted and starving, staggered Kelsang, her best friend Dolma, and 70 other women, men and children, defying a Chinese law forbidding Tibetans to leave their country without permission.
The group was spotted by Chinese border guards and fired on. Several Tibetans were wounded and Kelsang was shot dead. At least 100 foreign climbers and their Western guides saw the entire event. Almost all of them, including the guides, ignored Kelsang lying in the snow, and the wounded Tibetans begging for help, and either continued their climbs or came down from the base camp, determined to keep silent about what they had witnessed. Entrepreneurs were terrified that the Chinese would shut down the lucrative climbing business.
Although the author includes information about Tibet past and present that many readers will find useful, the core of this book is Kelsang's murder and its implications, which Green, an experienced journalist, recounts vividly and with scrupulous attention to evidence.
After Kelsang was killed and lay frozen in the snow, a Western climber, peering through a telescope, saw Chinese officers approach her:
They kicked the body twice. After photographing the scene, several posed for pictures next to Kelsang's body like hunters beside a prize buck.
A British climber with a team of British doctors asked:
Was I going to risk my own life to look at a body that was dead, or might be dead? I felt like I should have gone down there. But in the end I didn't.
How many Spectator readers would confront Chinese soldiers with automatic rifles standing over a dead or dying Tibetan? But what deserves condemnation is this:
Minutes after the commotion, the climbers returned to preparing for the summit, some demanding hot coffee from their sherpas.
Deeper in the sinkhole of corruption was Henry Todd, a successful climbing entrepreneur, at the base camp. Todd, who has been convicted for running 'the biggest LSD operation ever investigated and prosecuted by the British police', was alarmed that damaging eye-witness accounts of Kelsang's murder were leaking internationally. He e-mailed his contacts that
the shooting was an unexceptional event, involving not unarmed refugees or those of the religious order, but traffickers escorting women bound for prostitution.
Todd's allegations spread to the climbers in the camp. One of them recalled:
There was a rumour that they weren't nuns, that there were traffickers involved. It's the sort of thing put out by people — the leaders of the big groups — who didn't want the Chinese to come and interfere … It's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if you have a team of 15 people.
Another climber said:
For many people in the camp, the most important thing was to be able to come back again. They decided not to tell what happened because of this.
Kate Saunders, the spokeswoman for the main Tibet support group, stated: 'They just got on the plane and went home'.
Wholly predictable was the official Chinese announcement on what had happened. The Tibetans had been ordered by the border guards to go home, claimed Xinhua, Beijing's wire service:
But the stowaways refused and attacked the soldiers … the frontier soldiers were forced to defend themselves and injured two stowaways … One injured person died later in hospital due to oxygen shortage on the 6,200-metrehigh land.
The Chinese might have got away with this lie. But a Romanian journalist climber, Sergiu Matei, had risked filming the murder of Kelsang. His footage was shown on Romanian television, and soon BBC and CNN were broadcasting it internationally. The US ambassador in Beijing issued 'the highest form of diplomatic protest' to the Chinese government.
For many Tibetans, Green says, even though Matei's film was banned in their country, news of it had the effect of the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Lodi Gyari, leader of the Dalai Lama's negotiating team in China, said:
Not just as a Tibetan but as a human being it was very sad. But it was also inspiring. It gave Tibetans a sense of courage and self-respect.
Green has a somewhat cliched style ('painfully quiet', 'perfect foil', 'mulishly stubborn', 'rippling mountains'), and a weak grip on some facts (there were no Red Guards in China before the Cultural Revolution). But in this book he shows himself to be a first-class reporter who managed to speak to Tibetan survivors of the ill- fated tripas well as to Western witnesses. He reserves his greatest admiration for the two best friends, Dolma, who survived and spoke to Green, and Kelsang, who died alone in the snow. The girls were determined to escape from Tibet at all costs, meet the Dalai Lama, and 'untainted by the great evil of our age, cynicism', which afflicts so many doing business with China, tell the world what they knew.
– Spectator (July 2010)
Getting the Dalai Lama to write the foreword to your book won't do it any harm, but then the story contained within Jonathan Green's Murder in the High Himalaya deserves all the attention it can get. In 2006, a young Tibetan nun was shot dead by Chinese border guards near Mount Everest as she was fleeing persecution along with a group of fellow countrymen and women. In this lucid and penetrating account, investigative journalist Jonathan Green delves into the background of the story and the events leading up to it, exposing the terrible persecution endemic in the so-called 'roof of the world.' Rich in detail yet precise and clear-eyed, it is a formidable piece of social reporting.
On September 30, 2006, a 17-year-old nun named Kelsang Namtso was murdered by Chinese border guards as she tried to escape Chinese-occupied Tibet. The torture and outright slaughter of Tibetans by the Chinese has been well-documented by various human-rights organizations, but this time the killing took place near Advanced Basecamp on Cho Oyu, and dozens of Western climbers witnessed the act. Their moral dilemma was patent—tell the world and risk being banned from Tibet, or keep quite. Incredibly, in an age where every basecamp has e-mail, most climbers remained silent. Jonathan Green, whose work has appeared in theNew York Times, Men's Journal and Esquire, deftly recounts the stories of American climbing guide Luis Benitez (the first climber to speak out about the murder) and Namtso's best friend, Dolma, as they wrestle with their consciences, decide to bear witness and pay a great price. Some in the community of high-altitude guides ostracized Benitez, claiming he was placing a desire for fame above his responsibility to his clients. Subsequently, Benitez lost his income, profession and second family. Dolma could be exiled from her homeland for life. Green's accounts of the politics of high-altitude guiding are meticulously researched, balanced and riveting, and offer climbers a rare view of the booming business and internecine struggles at the top of the world. If you care about the ethics of mountaineering in the 21st century and the incredibly rich, threatened culture of Tibet, you simply must read this book.
– Rock and Ice (May 2010)
Now Jonathan Green has meticulously reconstructed events surrounding Kelsang’s life and death. His well-written account will hook readers from the first page... Despite the obstacles he encountered, Green has written an absorbing adventure story about a forbidding mountain range and a band of refugees who risked everything to reach the Dalai Lama, who continues to lead a campaign to publicize the plight of the Tibetan people.
– Palm Beach Arts Paper (September 2010)
Jonathan Green's descriptions of the scenery of the High Plateau are breathtaking, even on the page — a region of 46,000 glaciers, "the biggest ice fields outside of the Arctic and Antarctic"; "forests of juniper, oak, ash, spruce, cypress, and jungles of rhododendron"; a "vast wilderness" full of snow leopards and Tibetan Blue Bear, monkeys and red pandas, giant griffon vultures and golden eagles. In this landscape the bullets of the Chinese soldiers reverberate. "The bright snow mushroomed into a brilliant red stain around her body," Green writes of the shooting. "She was minutes from the border."
– Los Angeles Times (July 2010)
A thrilling investigation into the 2006 murder of a Tibetan nun who tried to flee to India, witnessed by her best friend.
Investigative journalist Jonathan Green spent three years tracking down what happened to 17-year-old Kelsang Namtso, a Tibetan nun who was killed by Chinese border guards while she attempted to flee to India, and the result of his findings are brilliantly told in Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy and Escape From Tibet. This captivating account follows Namtso on her journey with her best friend through a secret glacial path that is well-known to elite mountaineers, but forbidden for refugees fleeing China. Her murder by the Chinese border guards was caught on film by Western climbers, but they were faced with the question: Should they report the murder and never be allowed to climb in China again? Some risked talking to Green, who was partially funded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and Investigative Reporters and Editors.
– The Daily Beast (June 2010)
On Sept. 30, 2006, Chinese border troops opened fire on a group of Tibetans trying to escape their occupied land over the icy Nangpa La pass at Cho Oyu Mountain, the world’s sixth-tallest peak. One refugee was killed, a 17-year-old Buddhist nun named Kelsang Namtso, shot in the back only moments away from the top of the pass and safety in Nepal. There are about 30 shooting incidents a year, barely noticed in the West, at the border. But there was something different about this one: it took place in full view of dozens of Western mountain climbers, some of whom captured it on film.
And thereby hangs a tale, spun wonderfully in Green’s morally ambiguous account. He follows two parallel-track stories: life in Tibet under the Chinese heel, and the booming commercial world of Himalayan mountaineering, today a reserve of the super-rich. In 2006 alone there were 388 expeditions, more than twice as many as a decade before; Cho Oyu, a relatively easy and safe climb, is a favourite for amateurs warming up (at $20,000 each) for later attempts at Mt. Everest. Suppliers made millions, while the guides were media stars pulling in six-figure salaries, plus gifts from grateful clients—a Canadian entrepreneur gave one guide a $7,000 Rolex. Base camps took on aspects of frontier towns, complete with theft, drugs and prostitutes. On that September day, 40 expeditions jostled for space at the base of Cho Oyu.
Green’s twin storylines converge from the general to the particular—which Tibetans, which Westerners, were present—and then into a single account. Despite their satellite connections, at first no news leaked out from the climbers. They had a lot at stake: money, ego, safety and, for some—but not all—their souls. Some were afraid the Chinese would not let them out if they broke the silence, others that they would not be allowed back in for the next lucrative climbing season. Who spoke out and who did not, and why, is at the heart of one of the most unsettling books of recent years.
Thornton Wilder employed a highly effective narrative device in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927): a disaster in a remote area results in the death of many; the novel's narrator investigates the lives of all present at the disaster and the events that led to their being at the site when disaster struck. Jonathan Green works a modern variation on this time-tested structure to recount this tale of tragedy in Tibet.
On September 30, 2006, near Cho Oyu mountain in the high Himalaya, Chinese border guards opened fire on a group of Tibetans attempting to flee to Nepal via the Nanga La, a mountain path popular as an escape route. Many of those in the group died. In Wilder's novel, the collapse of the bridge at San Luis Rey killed everyone involved. Green has the benefit of a large number of surviving witnesses, including Tibetan refugees, sherpas, Western mountaineers and a Romanian documentary maker who captured the horrifying incident on film.
Green provides extensive background on the diverse elements that contributed to and converged in the final confrontation at Nanga La: life in the Tibetan village of Juchen where the teenage girls Dolma Palkyi and Dolkar Tsomo grew up; the business of mountaineering in Tibet; Chinese policies to obliterate Tibetan tradition, religion, language and nomadic culture after the invasion of October 1950; and the code of silence enforced by the Chinese government regarding its human-rights violations in Tibet. With so many different stories to tell, Green adopts the kaleidoscopic approach currently popular for television series and action movies. Within two pages he can skip from, "According to Tibetan tradition at least one child in each family should join the monastic life to ensure an accrual of merit for the family" to "in August 2007, a [Chinese Communist Party] decree was passed that prohibited tulkus (reincarnated lamas) from reincarnating without prior permission from the Communist Party." At times, the effect of absorbing so much information on so many topics can be as dizzying and exhilarating as a high-altitude climb.
At the center of Green's gripping story stand Dolma Palkyi and Dolkar Tsomo and their determination to journey to Dharamsala to meet the exiled Dalai Lama. Off to one side are the mountaineers who witness atrocities but remain stonily silent (Green asserts that many don't want to endanger future access to the mountains by alienating Chinese authorities). In the end, distressing moral dilemmas of our time emerge from this tale of religious pilgrims gunned down on an icy mountain path within view of self-absorbed climbers thinking only of their next summit.
– John McFarland, Shelf Awareness
A shattering tale that will appeal to readers of all things about Tibet, mountaineering, human rights and the preservation of cultural integrity.
A gripping take of routine murder that would have gone unreported but for the fact that a group of Western climbers were silent witnesses to the killing of a young Tibetan woman attempting to cross the border into India. Jonathan Green has travelled to the region to research the story, he’s interviewed witnesses, other refugees and even the Dalai Lama to tell this shocking and complicated story of how Chinese border guards, instructed to protect the border at any cost, will shoot to kill.
– Ones to Watch, The Bookseller (April 2010)
The cold-blooded slaying of a runaway Tibetan teenager ignites worldwide concern about the violent oppression at “the roof of the world.
For three years, American journalist Green travelled to remote sections of [the Himalaya] to investigate the murder of a young nun who died at the hands of Chinese border officials. In clear, concise prose, the author deliberates over China’s stranglehold on Tibet, its systematic dismantling of the indigenous culture and the terror tactics employed on families like Dolma’s, who were frightfully roused in the night by the Chinese officials known for randomly inspecting the homes of native Tibetans for proof of “activities deemed ‘unpatriotic’ to China and Mao Zedung’s Communist legacy.” Dolma fled Tibet alongside her fiery, impulsive best friend Dolkar. Both girls grew up close in Juchen Village, a mountainside hamlet, and became increasingly aware of the police-state atmosphere of their homeland, which only served to feed their dreams of crossing the Himalayan range into India. Dolkar’s burgeoning spirituality was the impetus for the girls’ escape in 2006 after she took vows to become a Tibetan nun and was rechristened Kelsang Namtso. As a spiritual exile from communism, Kelsang realized she was now a target of the aggressive Chinese government and must flee for her life. Green injects Kelsang and Dolma’s great escape with anxious tension as their group of 75 refugees exhaustively traversed the Nangpa La, a treacherous, highly patrolled mountain passage, aided by an illegal guide. “Minutes from the border,” Kelsang was mercilessly shot by patrol guards, and the scene was observed by senior Everest mountaineer Luis Benitez, who was concurrently guiding a group nearby. China’s relentless campaign of obfuscation and blamelessness ensued, and Tibetans continued to flee, unabated by the violence. Green’s steely, factually dense analysis of this unlawful conspiracy sheds light on a perennial human-rights crisis.
It has been over four years since the tragic incident on the Nangpa La at the Tibet-Nepal border when Chinese security personnel shot dead a young Tibetan nun and injured a few others who were trying to escape Tibet. The eye witness account of that incident is detailed in this book.
The death of the nun and the suffering underwent by others with her then highlighted the sad situation of the Tibetans in Tibet. Many of them risk their lives to escape from Tibet to join their brethren in exile in order to get a wholesome upbringing as Tibetans, something denied to them in Tibet.
As I had advised the group of Tibetans who were able to escape that year, it is important for the Tibetan people to honestly relate our experience so that the international community can understand how the Chinese authorities are resorting to ruthless measures to undermine the Tibetan people's way of life.
– The Dalai Lama
Murder in the High Himalaya is the enthralling story of Kelsang Namtso and Dolma Palkyi and the unbearable lengths these young girls went to in search of education and freedom. It is a heartbreaking and damning statement of failed policies by the Chinese government against Tibetans who despite these brutal obstacles, still refuse to give up hope. For the first time we were eyewitnesses to the murder of innocent Tibetans during their attempt at freedom. This book is a meaningful testament to the human spirit in its purest form.
– Richard Gere
In 2006, two European climbers witnessed the murder of a young Tibetan nun at the hands of Chinese border guards as she tried to cross into Nepal to seek counsel from the Dalai Lama. They decided to risk their careers to tell the world: and this is their compelling story. Ridley Scott plans to film it.
– The Bookseller (March 2010)