BOOK REVIEW

This book production with its attractive cover and the bold word TIBET in snow-white lettering against the distant slopes of the Tibetan mountains immediately catches the eye. The stark rocky plateau in the foreground stretching into the distant blue Himalayas appears as desolate as the surface of the moon.

Tibet was the home of New Zealand’s first Tibetan refugee, ThutenKesang. One wonders how six 6 million of his people could survive in such a forbidding environment, but Thuten’s vivid description of his homeland and his family living near the capital city Lhasa makes compelling reading.
The boundaries of Tibet in relation to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Burma (now Myanmar) with several great Asian rivers traversing the landscape, show Tibet as a distinct entity and not a province of China to the north as it appears in some atlases.

This historical map of Thuten’s Tibetan homeland also marks the route his father and him took to India in 1954 when his father brought him to India for his education, during the oppressive occupation of his once-free land. He finally reached the Indian hill station of Kalimpong to start a new life, but he has never faltered in his quest to restore the unique identity and freedom of his homeland.

Later, in 1988, as shown on the map, Thuten and his wife Gwen decided to risk visiting his homeland. They set off from the Nepalese capital Kathmandu travelling overland to Lhasa. Thuten’s autobiography faithfully traces the story of his life from his boyhood years until today as a Tibetan New Zealander.

He has made his mark as a leader in the multicultural community, serving as the official NZ representative of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Thuten was the recipient of a significant and well deserved Queen’s Service Medal by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Thuten considered it was an honour to have the book written by him to be forwarded by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In providing reasons for writing his story, Thuten followed the advice of His Holiness to record for future generations of families what life was like before and during the Chinese military occupation of their homeland.

As Thuten describes his upbringing as a novice monk and as a young boy living in the city of Lhasa, there are constant glimpses of life in traditional monasteries and the impressive Potala, built in the 17th Century as the home of successive Dalai Lamas.

A remarkable feature of this book is the range of photographs, paintings, sketches and illustrations included in the layout of the book. These provide a fascinating record of Thuten’s years in Tibet, India and his acceptance as a refugee in New Zealand. His philosophy of humility, compassion and empathy for people of other cultures are reflections of his Buddhist upbringing, merging with Christian beliefs as he joined the YMCA in Auckland and marriage to his much-loved wife Gwen.

Not only does he recall speeches made on the plight of his Tibetan people, but he describes his involvement in action programmes such as Dr Graham’s New Zealand Homes Committee, The Tibetan Children Relief
Society of New Zealand, Friends of Tibet (NZ), the Auckland Multicultural Society Inc., the Liaison Office of Tibet New Zealand as well as the Tibetan community at large.

Thuten’s book provides personal examples from his own experiences of the advantages of becoming involved with other Kiwis and integrating into New Zealand society. His approach to this is a model for other refugees and immigrants to become actively involved in daily work and leisure activities alongside other New Zealanders looking for a place in the sun as well as retaining their own cultures, language and values.

For these reasons alone, this book deserves to be used in teachers’ colleges, polytechnic institutes, universities and secondary schools by students, lecturing staff, teachers and students.

John Buckland MA Dip Tchg., QSM
Principal Lecturer Social Sciences (Retired)
Auckland College of Education.

If you would like to buy a copy of this book, please email Thuten Kesang, with your full name and postal address to kesang@pl.net cc to office@kesang.pl.net