Cover Image: Eat the Buddha

Eat the Buddha

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Member Reviews

The title got me into the book, and the interesting history lesson kept me going. Focusing on a group of Tibetans who live in Sichuan, an area where many Tibetans have set themselves on fire protesting China’s rule. Demick sets out to find out why 156 Buddhists have set themselves on fire, even swallowing gasoline to make sure they burn from the inside. By looking back at the history of the Tibetan uprising and the humiliating way the Chinese stripped these Tibetans of everything, even killing their yaks, Demick has a very pessimistic outlook for the future.  It’s a challenging book to read, but well worth it if you are interested in the future of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism.
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"Eat the Buddha" by Barbara Demick is a great read. I'll definitely be recommending this one to some of my patrons.
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My thanks to NetGalley, Random House and Barbara Demick for an ARC in exchange for an honest book review.
The plight of Tibet is never more evident or well represented than in Barbara Demick’s ‘Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town’. 
The mysteries and serenity of Buddhism and Tibetan monks always appears idyllic but in these pages we witness Tibetans from and around the town of Ngaba who have been abused, persecuted, stripped of their cultural and religious identity and their freedom by Chinese suppression. Demick’s interviewees share their stories candidly. They are heartbreaking. They are eye-opening and o one can tell them with the detail and heart as Barbara Demick can.
This is a very personal narrative of survival, of honor and of the devotion of the Tibetan people who are faced with unimaginable challenges today as they try to hold onto their spirituality, their culture and their home.
Highly recommended reading.
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I had hoped for what the cover copy promised: a detailed account of Ngaba, a small town in Tibet. Unfortunately, this book was repetitive and often vague in detail and information. The writing is a bit clunky as well, and there's a lot of speculative padding regarding people's thoughts and motivations.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for gifting me with an ARC of Eat The Buddha by Barbara Demick. In exchange I offer my unbiased review.

Very few journalists have both the reverence and skills to write such a detailed but engaging historical narrative of the Tibetan People and their struggles for freedom & independence. Barbara Demick treks to the town of Ngaba, secluded on the Easter plateau of Tibet and introduces the readers to several long time locals. Through theair personal struggles we get a glimpse of the world very few foreigners are able to explore on their own. It’s a fascinating journey into a peaceful people’s traditions, culture, festivals and challenges as China has usurped all their dignity and uniqueness. 
I knew very little about this region of the world and was enraptured by the meticulous material Barbara Demick provided. This was both eye opening and heartbreaking. Whether you’re a history buff, or just a casual nonfiction reader Eat The Buddha will not disappoint.
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*Thank you Netgalley and Random House for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review* 
Babara Demick weaves together this multi layered story  through the use of thoroughly researched historical data and the personal stories of several residents of Ngaba - located at the Eastern edge of the Tiebtan plateau. This story is gripping, heartbreaking and at times utterly enraging. It is not "easy" to read the story of a group of people who have been persecuted, abused, stripped of their religion and cultural identity. To know these atrocities began before I was alive and continue to this day, while the world turns their backs is heart wrenching. To read this book though is to also learn and experience the beauty and enduring strength of the Tiebtan people, their culture and their history. #freetibet isn't just a trendy hashtag - it holds the hopes of an entire people. Read this book, you owe it to yourself and to the people of Tibet to know more - to do more.
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“For centuries, Tibet was known as a hermit kingdom. Its charms were hidden by the natural barrier of the Himalayas to its west and by a reclusive theocratic government ruled by a succession of Dalai Lamas...Nowadays it is not the Tibetans shutting the door, but a paranoid Chinese Communist Party. China has ruled Tibet since 1950, and is a most unwelcoming gatekeeper.”

When the Communists fled farther west into China (The Long March) to escape the Chinese Civil War, they were lacking of food, and by sheer coincidence found Buddha statues made of flour that tasted sweet, then started consuming them whenever they found any, hence the title ‘Eat the Buddha’.

'Eat The Buddha' chronicles the lives and struggles of Tibetans who lived under the ruling of China since 1950, when Mao proclaimed the People Republic of China. This book is the result of thorough research, and the various interviews Demick conducted with Tibetans from a small town called Aba at the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, for over 3 years. 

We start from the year 1958 and end with the present, where some of the interviewees are currently residing in Dharamsala, India, now home of some exiles like Gonpo and Delek, but numbers have recently dropped when some of them have moved back to China, hoping to lead an ‘easier’ life than the one they had in India. 

The book opens to the story of Gonpo, the last princess of mei Kingdom, when her palace was being seized and her entire family was being forced out of their home. In the following chapters, we get to meet other Tibetans like Delek, now a ‘self-styled historian’ whose original research was focused on the events of the 20th century, Dongtuk, a kid born out of wedlock and whose half-brother self-immolated, and Tsegyam, an aspiring poet, who at 19 became a vice principal. 

This was such an amazing historical non-fiction that vividly painted the livelihoods of people struggling to find their footing in a country they call home, which keeps robbing them of their identities, freedom and independence, again and again. It’s about they stood their ground, fought back, rebelled to the extent of self-immolation as a protest, a call for the freedom of their people and to bring their Dalai Lama back home.

On top of that, the author also showed us the Tibetans' lives, cultures and beliefs that made them known for their peace and non-violent nature. We’ll read of their Monlam festival (The Great Prayer Festival); Losar, the Tibetan New Year; their sky burials (an ecological practice of returning a body to nature without digging the land polluting water, or chopping down trees for cremation); their food like tsampa (made of barley or wheat flour) which is their staple, momos and khapse - treats they serve on special occasions like their New Year; their famous butter lamps for their prayers and meditations; their nomadic life and how some are adapting to a more modernized life, and their education at the monasteries where they also held their Tibetan monastic debates in their own style (lots of body gestures and clapping).

This was such an eye-opening read for me, it’s heartbreaking to know and see what the Tibetans have to go through and their struggles seem endless, so much so that the Dalai Lama one day asked Elie Wiesel during one of his visits to India, 

“You wrote about the Jewish people losing a homeland two thousand years ago and how you’re still here. Mine has just lost its homeland, and I know it’s going to be a very long road into exile,” “How did you survive?”

It’s a question that many, without a doubt, would want an answer to.

Definitely going to be one of my top non-fiction reads this year! 

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for providing me a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
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I really enjoyed this, and it was my introduction to the Tibetan cause. It's very fluid and readable and extremely well-sourced. I mostly admire the dedication to her work and appreciation of the nuances of culture that Barbara Demick demonstrates.
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3 1/2 stars rounded up.  I really enjoyed reading Demick's book about North Korea and looked forward to this book as well.  In "Eat the Buddha," we get a good look at Tibet and their rocky relationship with China.  We get a deep appreciation of one specific village up in the mountains of China.  Ngaba starts as a nomadic population and over time their way of life is upended as the Red Army marches in and changes their life.  I did not fully recognize just how "Big Brother" China had become.  It's terrifying and saddening to see how much this peaceful people are abused.  

This book is a lot more fact-heavy than the North Korea one.  It's either that, or since I lived in South Korea I could relate more to the other.  At times I lost track of who all the people were.  I definitely felt anxious for all these Tibetans and wished a more peaceful life for them.  Definitely eye-opening and I'm not sorry I read this one.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House for an ARC for my honest opinion.
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“I have everything I might possibly want in life, but my freedom.”
-a Tibetan businessman for Barbara Demick's "Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town"

If you're like most Americans, you've likely spent your life romanticizing the mysterious land of Tibet, a nation long vulnerable to invasion from its neighboring China yet a nation often known more for "Free Tibet" campaigns, passionate Buddhism and disciplined monks, and an idyllic setting that Hollywood seldom represents accurately.

Demick, however, is NOT Hollywood. Currently the Los Angeles Times' bureau chief for Beijing, Demick tells the story of Tibet largely through the lens of Ngaba, a Tibetan town perched 11,000 feet above sea level that sits along a border to China and yet has become one of Tibet's most elusive and difficult to visit locales.

Starting, at least briefly, in the 1930's when Mao Zedong's Red Army fled into the Tibetan plateau to escape adversaries in the Chinese Civil War, "Eat the Buddha" takes its name from the Red Army's fight for survival in Ngaba's rugged, elevated terrain by consuming religious statues made of flour and butter. This would become the early days of China's increasingly intrusive and dominating behavior toward its more spiritual and peaceful neighbor, a "relationship" that Demick largely picks up in the 1950's and explores through her three trips to the isolated town from 2013 while interviewing Tibetans in Ngaba along with others living abroad including the Dalai Lama, an exiled princess, and a host of others.

Demick's history of Tibet is an often heartbreaking one chronicling decades of Chinese incursions that have resulted in cultural upheaval, economic hardship, and the deaths of an estimated 300,000 Tibetans. Determined to sweep out religion, China destroyed monasteries and often punished those who even dared to mention the Dalai Lama's name.

Spanning decades of Tibetan and modern history, "Eat the Buddha" captures its heart-center through the stories Demick brings to life throughout her journey including a princess whose family was wiped out in the Cultural Revolution, a young Tibetan nomad who becomes radicalized in Kirti Monastery, an upwardly mobile entrepreneur who falls in love with a Chinese woman, a poet and intellectual who risks everything for his voice to be heard, and a young Tibetan schoolgirl who is forced at a young age to choose between family and the prosperity offered by Chinese money.

Demick weaves engaging tales here, an abundance of history woven into the tapestry of the lives that history impacted and a never-ending commitment to removing the veil of mystery from Tibet in favor of a more honest, reasoned understanding of the land and its people and the devastating impact of China's often brutal domination of the region.

There's no question that "Eat the Buddha" offers a largely one-sided perspective, Tibet's voice given tremendous clarity while nary a Chinese voice to be found here. That said, Demick also captures vividly a conflicted Tibet that is far removed from the romanticized Tibet portrayed by Hollywood or even the Tibet so often captured by those who would advocate for its freedom. There's an understanding in Tibet that China brings financial prosperity, technological advancement, and greater opportunities, but there's also an undeniable sense of grief and loss as Tibetans increasingly experience the loss of their spirituality, culture, and way of life.

"Eat the Buddha" is often brutal in its portrayal, Ngaba itself having at one point become the center point for a wave of self-immolations that swept through Tibet's Buddhist monks and nuns as perhaps the most extreme form of protest possible.

Do they resist the Chinese? Do they join them? Do they adhere to the Dalai Lama's teachings of non-violence and his support of a "middle way?" These issues are thoroughly explored in "Eat the Buddha" and in most ways Demick refuses to offer up anything resembling an easy answer.

There are no easy answers here.

"Eat the Buddha" is an immersive and atmospheric read, its interior design fosters a sense of antiquated historicity and a feeling, even within the font, that you've gone back into time and into another space. Intellectually satisfying and emotionally resonant, "Eat the Buddha" is a slow read that demands attention to detail and a willingness to embrace both history and humanity.

At times, that balance is difficult to achieve as deeply moving stories can be temporarily interrupted by paragraphs or pages of historical background. The closing chapter of "Eat the Buddha," as well, follows a chapter of character closure with what amounts to being historical summary and a methodological overview that feels anti-climactic and simply less satisfying than if Demick had allowed us to reflect upon the characters whose lives have been so deeply impacted by contemporary Tibetan and Chinese history and relations. It feels much like a movie where you believe you're in the closing scene only to have the director keep going toward a less satisfying conclusion.

However, these are minor quibbles for a book that is engaging, immersive, and incredibly important. Demick, whose last book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea" was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, has crafted an occasionally shocking, deeply revealing, and immensely touching account of a Tibetan town shatters the facade while reminding the world why we fight to free a Tibet we don't really understand.

"Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town" is scheduled for release on July 28th from Random House.
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My thanks to Random House, Barbara Demick and Netgalley.
I will confess that I didn't like this. That annoyed me!
I did expect to like this. I didn't. 
I have no excuses nor explanations. I hated this book. Not the area or zip!! Just this book.
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I was really looking forward to reading this book and learning more about Tibet's history, but also quite anxious about the subject matter: books about Tibet tend to be extremely biased against China. Unfortunately, it is true in Barbara Demick's book.

I'm a big enthusiast of this region's history and culture; as I hold a degree in China Studies, I have read my fair share of historical sources from both sides of this conflict. "Eat the Buddha" is massively biased towards the "liberation" side, which is quite disappointing. I understand that the author spoke to a variety of people while researching this book, so I hate to see that only a certain kind of views made it to this book. While it did include proponents of the national government, they were portrayed as sort of villains.

I do like the writing, but I find this kind of discourse unfair and dangerous.

*Thank you to the Publisher for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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After having read Nothing to Envy I would have read anything Barbara Demick wrote. It certainly didn't hurt that Eat the Buddha is a topic which I already care deeply about.

Eat the Buddha profiles the small Tibetan town of Ngaba on the east of the Tibetan plateau, though the People's Republic of China would tell you it's in the Sichuan Province. Ngaba, though somewhat unknown to Western audiences, has played a big role in the unrest between China and Tibet. Nearly one-third of all the Tibetan self-immolations as protest occurred in this town.

Demick interviews and reconstructs the lives of several Tibetans from in and around Ngaba from the 1950's to the present and through their experiences paints a clear and painful history of China's occupation in Tibet. Because of Ngaba's geographic proximity to China, it was on the front lines for decades, constantly being affected by the political maneuverings in China itself. Ngaba was on the route of the Long March, the battle site for fighting factions of the Red Party during the Cultural Revolution, and of course, continues to be deeply affected by the Chinese occupation to this day. All of this has lead to a hot-bed of unrest and approximately 50,000 security personnel now stationed in the town.

Like Nothing to Envy, Eat the Buddha is told in the narrative style. I love this style of historical non-fiction, it's readable and treats the interviewees as real people rather than players in a history text. Nonetheless, the author doesn't neglect the history either. For those, like myself, not terribly familiar with the history of Ngaba, Demick does an excellent job of providing the reader with the context that is essential to understanding the current situation in Tibet. Though the books itself mainly starts in the 50's—this is about the earliest you can get and still be able to gather first hand accounts—sometimes the history will go back much farther through the ancestors of the interviewees and the ancient structures in the town. Because of the greater focus on the past at the beginning of the book it was a bit slower to get into the narrative-style story-telling but, personally, I am totally happy to make that trade.

As you might expect from phrases like "self-immolation" or even just "Tibet" this book can be pretty heartbreaking. Because of the aging of the Dalai Lama and China's continued strength as a world power, it seems like the spotlight on Tibet has waned in recent years. I think it's incredibly valuable to hear these stories and I thank Barbara Demick for bringing them to us. I hope that this book serves in whatever way it can to bring the plight of Tibetans back to the world's attention.
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An exceptionally written book that portrays the ideals of Tibetan culture and what Tibetans did to survive under Chinese rule in a way that was honorable, insightful and genuine.

I was drawn to this book as a result of visiting Dharamsala, India, in 2010. While there I learned about Tibetans in exile. I visited the home of the Dalai Llama and the beautiful Buddhist monasteries. Noted the many storefronts displaying FREE TIBET banners. I even marched in a silent vigil in support of the Tibetan people. Eat the Buddha gives a thorough and interesting account of the history of China overtaking Tibet, the powerlessness of the Tibetans against the Chinese, the lack of freedom they still suffer today, and the Chinese suppression of the Dalai Llama and Buddhist religion. 

I especially found Demick's individual accounts of notable Tibetans to be honorable and written with compassion. She detailed how they suffered through abuse, poverty, hunger and loss of their families. Tibetans were jailed for the smallest infractions and Tibetan youth resorted to self-immolation as a way to show their religious devotion and their sacrifice for democracy.

A mesmerizing book that enthralls the readers and gives them a look into a noble and self-sacrificing culture. I was brought back to all I had experienced while in Dharamsala. Through the author's writing, I couldn't help but feel the beauty, compassion and peacefulness of the Tibetan and Buddhist culture that I witnessed all those years ago. Thank you Barbara Demick for taking me back there and helping me understand the Tibetan culture even more.
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Through interviews with various Tibetans from in and around the town of Ngaba on the eastern reaches of the Tibetan Plateau, Barbara Demick is able to provide a multi-layered look into a region that has long been obscured by both an official Chinese state media system focused on projecting a global image of national harmony and Orientalizing westerners who imagine a land that is not much more beyond religious mysticism and monks. First of all, said interviews provide a detailed dive into the many changes and upheavals that the town of Ngaba and its surrounding environs has experienced over the last several decades. This regional history, in turn, serves as a microcosm for the history of greater Tibet, which the author takes care to cover specifically when necessary.  Along with all of the historical coverage leading up through to the current times, all of the interviewed individuals collectively reveal just how much being a Tibetan in the present-day People’s Republic means enduring a conflicted existence, where they increasingly feel like they can either partake in the development and rising standard of living enjoyed by most citizens of China, be a distinct people who can openly embrace their culture and faith, but not both. 

Demick’s work is as informative as it is eye-opening. For all those who wish to know what the present-day is like for the ever-pressured Tibetan people, I cannot possibly recommend this book enough.
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