I have not seen the movie: I like to think my review is therefore untainted by any Hollywood impressions I may have had.
Heinrich Harrer was a German mountaineer and skier in the late 30’s, who happened to be on a Himalayan climbing expedition when WWII broke out. He was duly intervened by the British in India. Escape, at the intersection of easily viable and desirable, took him a year or so to get right, but escape he does, to Tibet.
Tibet is the Forbidden Country, Lhasa, the capital, is the Forbidden City. Tibet, isolated in the mountains was mysterious; a blank on the map. Harrer naturally combined his desire to escape British internment with his climbing and exploring impulses and makes for Tibet.
He does not give up until he reaches Lhasa, in a journey that takes a year or so. Harrer, you must understand very much has a European adventurer’s soul. He is practical and tough; energetic and decisive. This means: be amazed at his feats of linguistics and physical adventures, but also know that his understanding of politics and religion, art and architecture is limited.
Seven Years in Tibet very much stands in line with other exploration and travel literature from earlier in the 20th century. It captures a medieval, religious world abutting the modern. Thus, we witness Harrer attempting to explain atom bombs to the Dalai Lama, a child at that point.
I’m not saying it’s Indiana Jones, but it’s Indiana Jones. Except real.
I enjoyed this quick read. The descriptions are great. Harrer’s experiences are literally priceless. They have value because the world he finds in Lhasa is gone.
Harrer’s experiences make the book. Unlike Robert Byron’s amazing books, especially The Road to Oxiana, and honourable mention to The Station, Harrer is poor in understanding. Read Seven Years in Tibet as viewing a lost world, a world before capitalism and rush and notifications from your smart phone.
Seven Years in Tibet is an escape from today.