four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
By: 
Pico Iyer
user_rating: 
0

A-The Open RoadPico Iyer, globe-trotting travel and magazine writer, essayist, novelist, and screenwriter (Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, Cuba and the Night, The Global Soul), examines the life of the Dalai Lama, a family friend and one of the most recognized—and misunderstood—people on the planet.

The Topic: The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) gets around. His likeness has been sold on a doll, he lectures in 50,000-seat stadiums, he’s revered by Hollywood types, and he’s won a Nobel Prize. Still, few people outside Tibet understand the many important roles that the Dalai Lama plays—as a Buddhist demigod, leader to the people of Tibet, ambassador of good will, and political heavyweight. Iyer sets out to understand how such a man fits in a world that views him with both reverence and bemusement. When a fellow journalist asks Iyer a stunning question—"Do you get the impression that the Dalai Lama is not exactly the brightest bulb in the room?"—he is forced to consider the vastly different and complex public and private lives that one of the most photographed men in the world must live.
Knopf. 275 pages. $24. ISBN: 0307267601

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Open Road, Pico Iyer’s beautifully written, up-close meditation about [the Dalai Lama]—a superb portrait of a celebrated figure whom the master journalist and his family have known personally for 30 years—arrives at a perfect time. As the International Campaign for Tibet tries to get news out about what’s happening in Tibet despite severe Chinese censorship … The Open Road provides context for the tragic events of this month and illuminates how a singular personality born to a highly ritualized leadership role has evolved over time." Carlin Romano

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Iyer has written one of the most thoughtful and eloquent books yet about the Dalai Lama. Considering his subject is one of the world’s most analyzed and photographed men (and recently in the public eye after last month’s riots in Tibet), that’s no small feat." Askold Melnyczuk

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Longtime Tibet observer Pico Iyer has written a nuanced and perfectly timed account of the Dalai Lama’s life—weaving history, politics, religion and biography into this kaleidoscopic portrayal. … The Open Road reflects Iyer’s 30 years of keen observation and extensive reporting about the Tibetan leader." Bill Williams

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Iyer himself first traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home as a teenager, and thus began a dialogue that would cover three decades and half a dozen continents—and become the grist of The Open Road. Weaving together these conversations (and many with the Dalai Lama’s brother, Ngari Rinpoche, and other Tibetans), along with vast research, Iyer has written an original exploration that occasionally loses the scent and wanders off trail, but largely delivers a trenchant, impassioned look at a singular life." Holly Morris

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"This is not a book to knock the Dalai Lama off his pedestal, as Christopher Hitchens tried to do to Mother Teresa. … It’s a much more human book about a world that took the man who came to its door seeking help and elevated him, and in doing so averted its eyes from his empty hands." Sandip Roy

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Dalai Lama, The Open Road acknowledges, doesn’t have all the answers; ‘it’s the questions he puts into play that invigorate.’ One could say the same about Pico Iyer’s marvelous little book." Shashi Tharoor

Critical Summary

In his study of the Dalai Lama, Iyer offers a rich historical context made stronger by his own diligent research and vast knowledge of global politics (not to mention a personal connection). Given the current unrest between Tibet and China, Iyer’s book takes on additional weight by lending urgency to the story of an otherwise little understood—if venerated and idolized—man and his goals, both speciously simple in a complex world. (Only the Washington Post cited weak analysis of the Dalai Lama-China relations.) Nor does Iyer avoid describing the darker sides of Tibetan Buddhism. In the end, Iyer is, as always, "a marvelous guide to faraway place," notes the San Francisco Chronicle. "The Dalai Lama, even if he ends up on your screen saver, remains as mysterious to us as many of the places Iyer has been to."