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Race to Tibet
Race to Tibet
by Sophie Schiller
Release date: January 26, 2015
Self-published at Tradewins Publishing
Source: Received from the author
This book counts for the
following Reading Challenges
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
It amazes how authors still manage to find historical topics almost untouched, and sometimes how doing research for a book they are led to discover something else. This is what happened to Sophie Schiller, and the end result, Race To Tibet, is an excellent historical novel on a 19th century famous French explorer: Gabriel Bonvalot. Ready? Be sure to admire the book cover before hopping on your camel!
Bonvalot received the French Geographical Society’s Gold Medal in 1891 for his expedition to Tibet that’s recounted in this book. At the time, his work relating his journey was a huge bestseller. Schiller used it, as well as diaries by his other two main companions to write her own novel: Prince Henri d’Orléans and Catholic missionary priest Father Deneken (along with his converted Chinese servant – very useful with his language.).
How did a royal manage to get on this trip? Well, too often in company of women and booze, he was stuck in a scandal. To have the media of the time forget about him, his father –thinking of his own political career– decided to send him far away for a while. When he heard Bonvalot was preparing for an expedition, he forced him to accept Henri in his crew, providing of course the explorer with the huge necessary funds for such a trip. They left in June 1889 and came back a year later. They were also accompanied by a woman, determined to find out what had really happened to her husband, who had recently disappeared in Tibet.
Bonvalot had the ambition of being the first European to reach Lhasa and come back alive to tell about it. Indeed, not even mentioning the awful conditions of the travel, Lhasa was at the time the Forbidden City, where Europeans could easily be, and were, killed if found there.
The author did a great job at describing the horrendous conditions, with extreme cold, unbearable blizzards, and altitudes so high that for most of the trip all the members of the caravan suffer from acute altitude sickness. Men and animals die of exposure. Sometimes they can only travel by compass, at 40 minus.
If that were not enough, they keep being pestered or even threatened by authorities who fear they might be Russian spies and who try to delay and prevent them from going further.
And you have the usual fights and arguments between servants and guides.
Add to that Henri’s spoiled brat behavior, his heavy drinking and his stupid moves endangering their lives more than once, and you know you’d better hold fast to your camel to survive the trip.
There’s also the nagging element of mystery about finding a special secret route to Lhasa. Will they manage to enter the city? You will have to read the novel to see!
Believe it or not, Bonvalot managed then to go to Ethiopia. After a career in politics, he died in 1933 at the old age of 80, amazing for a man of the time after having been exposed to such harshness of the elements.
One aspect of the book sounded weird and far fetched: Bonvalot keeps having all along hallucinations of Prejevalsky who had the reputation of having reached Tibet. I don’t know if indeed Bonvalot had that sort of mental issues, but it distracted me sometimes, and I found it to be an unnecessary fantasy element, whether true or not.
VERDICT: Wonderful historical novel on famous French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot. Experience an expedition to Tibet with all its beauty and horrendous conditions.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
An intrepid band of explorers headed by Gabriel Bonvalot, France’s greatest explorer, and his partner, Prince Henri d’Orléans, attempt to be the first living Europeans to reach Lhasa. Before they leave Paris, Bonvalot meets Camille Dancourt, the beautiful, strong-willed wife of a French surveyor who disappeared in Tibet, who desperately wishes to join the expedition. When the caravan sets out they face freezing temperatures, violent winds, mountain sickness, hostile Tibetans, duplicitous Chinese Mandarins, and a beguiling Tibetan Buddhist princess with a deadly secret. When the explorers reach Tibet, they discover a land of mystery and intrigue, a land of danger that promises them only one thing: death. On the verge of collapse, Bonvalot realizes they must resort to deadly force if they ever wish to escape Tibet alive. (provided by the author)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ
and grew up in the West Indies.
Among other oddities
her family tree contains a Nobel prize-winning physicist
and a French pop singer.
She loves stories that carry the reader back in time to exotic
and far-flung locations.
She was educated at American University, Washington, DC
and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
She is currently at work on a new historical thriller set in the Caribbean.