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GOING TO DOLPO

 

Imperfect music and literature

It is difficult to describe what Timothy Doyle has accomplished in his gentle book about a trek along the border of Tibet. The plot is simple: another young American following the call of something he-knows-not-what goes to Nepal, inconveniences a lot of the natives, nearly dies, and flies out to safety - but he does not knock the dust from his feet as he leaves. He has brought it back to share with the rest of us.

 

The conundrum for a reviewer is that Doyle's writing is more like haiku than prose, understated and richer because it suggests rather than reports; or more like Japanese watercolor painting than a narrative, with sentences that outline a content more than provide it. Just as those watercolors require patience and attention, here too patience is repaid. Doyle's spare descriptions are surprisingly rich, therefore, because they suggest infinitely more than they say. Or, shifting metaphors to something more appropriate to the Himalayas, his writing is really a kind of sand painting; individual grains of a story which, taken by themselves, could seem unrelated, dry, mundane. But take one step back from the individual specks -- recounted conversations with his guide Kali Sherpa, a particular moment traversing a saddle between two peaks in blinding snow and sun, a barking dog, his upset stomach -- these grains of colored sand reveal the outline of a greater mandala.

 

It is compelling in a way that asks the reader to take a moment to reflect on the deeper content concealed behind the seemingly austere surfaces.

 

If the brushstrokes of storytelling here trace the borders of a life within which imagination fleshes out the detail, then the book itself is about boundaries: between the life of the body and the life of spirit; between the mundane, accessible Nepal and the sacred, inaccessible Tibet; between rich and poor; between the Buddhist texts that punctuate his footsteps and his understanding of those texts. His trek and his story walk these borders -- and toward a destination he does not reach. The point may well be that the Dolpo toward which we're walking is not always the one at which we arrive and, as in every life, we are left to wonder whether the disappointment, bad food, and barking dogs are worth it. Against the backdrop of Doyle's writing, it becomes impossible to say no.

Dr. Marc Peterson, professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Washington County

 

 

 

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