- Fizzy Thoughts: From Heaven Lake

From Heaven Lake

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

From Heaven Lake

Vikram Seth
1983
178 pages

I think I've mentioned this before, but I pretty much suck at Asian history. Cal Poly didn't offer too many courses on Asian history, and I took only the required ones. Or maybe it was just one. I don't even remember. I do remember I didn't much care for the professor. So, having said all that, I found this book to be a little difficult. Usually, when I read travel books, I can picture a map in my head and follow along. And my imagination does a pretty good job of filling in the details of the places. But with this book, my mental map and my imagination weren't around much, making it harder for me to follow.

From Heaven Lake was my choice for an Indian author for the Expanding Horizons Challenge. Back in the early 1980s, Vikram Seth attended grad school in Nanjing, China. While on an organized student tour, he happened to get a hard to acquire travel pass into Tibet. Taking advantage of the situation, he decided to hitchhike from Liuyuan, China south to Lhasa, Tibet, then to Nepal and home to New Delhi, India. Most of his journey is spent in a truck, crossing a desolate stretch of China. Seth does a good job of describing the men he traveled with, and the people he meets along the way. I had no trouble picturing the characters. The landscape, however, was a bit of a challenge for my Asian history/geography challenged brain. Seth is a great traveller, though. He dressed in the plain blue cap and trousers so prevalent in 1980s China, he spoke fluent Chinese, he was easy-going and he was willing to endure harsh weather, uncomfortable trucks and bureaucracy to basically hang out with locals for a month. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Rory Stewart and his travels across Afghanistan.

In short, it was an interesting but not riveting read. I'm glad it was a short book, because had it been much longer I think I would have lost interest. I do have another one of Seth's books on order (An Equal Music), so I'm looking forward to seeing what he's like as a fiction writer.

3 comment(s):

lisamm said...

Hurray for short books! I swear I'm getting less and less tolerant of slow moving and/or boring or poorly written books the older I get and the more I read.

Sorry about Favre and the boys losing on Sunday! I was rooting for them!

Melissa said...

It does help if you know the area when reading a travel book. Still, it sounds like it could be an interesting book to pick up someday.

Amira said...

I loved this book, but I'm sure a lot of it was because there was so much about western China. Seth isn't your typical adventure travel writer who visits western China for the sole purpose of writing a book.

But I can see that if the places he's talking about don't mean anything to you, then it wouldn't be so interesting. And even people who've paid attention to Asian history have usually ignored western China pretty thoroughly.

Anyway. I loved the story about the Uyghur man selling the cap.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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