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Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother's Story    by Diki Tsering order for
Dalai Lama, My Son
by Diki Tsering
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is a reflection on the life and times of the 'Grandmother of Tibet', translated by her granddaughter Yangzom Doma, and edited and introduced by her grandson Khedroob Thondup. He tells us that it 'does not do justice to her.' It is the voice of a remarkable old woman, one who feels that 'however debilitated you become physically, the spirit of youth is constant and alive.'

Diki Tsering shares with the reader the traditions on which her life was based, which she considers 'the creators of your spirit and your pride and the backbone of your sensibilities. They make you what you are and define what you want to be.' She grew up in a family of 'humble but prosperous peasants' in Amdo, an eastern province of Tibet in the district of Tsongkha under the jurisdiction of Kumbum monastery.

She shares with us the family structure and the power of the grandfather; the tradition of sending one son to the monastery; farm life and labor; classes in society from corpse bearers at the bottom to the revered lamas; foods, dress and traditional festivals, in particular Losar, Tibetan New Year; and the power of storytelling and beliefs in ghosts. She describes all the ceremony involved in her marriage at the age of sixteen, and the difficult time that followed, under the aegis of a demanding mother-in-law.

Diki Tsering bore sixteen children, of whom seven survived infancy. Three were destined for high positions as incarnate lamas, one being the fourteenth Dalai Lama. She describes the selection process for the latter, the ransom demanded by the Tsongkha governor, Ma Pu-fang, and the long journey to Lhasa, where Reting Rinpoche governed as Regent and warned her that people there had 'less transparent hearts' than she was used to in Amdo. Though 'treated like a queen', she missed the freedom, privacy and responsibility of her previous life.

It's absorbing to see Tibet, and especially Lhasa, through these wise eyes. She calls the Potala Palace 'a museum, the grandeur of which I will never see again', and talks of being an outsider and of the snobbery of some of the aristocracy. She shows us Losar in Lhasa, explains childbirth and burial customs, and the predictions of oracles. Her husband died, perhaps poisoned, and a new Regent took over. Indeed, since the death of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, 'power struggles raged between competing factions', which left fertile ground for the Chinese infiltration.

The escape to India has been well documented, but is told here from Diki Tsering's point of view. She subsequently travelled to England, America, Japan and Hong Kong, and ended a colorful but also plain life in Dharamsala. If you have an interest in Tibet as it was, this is a must read.

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