Friday Reads: Across Many Mountains, a memoir


“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Topics may be new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 


This week, the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club had a thoughtful discussion about the memoir, Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen.   All 15 people in attendance had a chance to share their thoughts, observations and revelations with a rapt audience.  It was wonderful to hear new attendees and veteran attendees build on each other’s comments and get spurred on to new thoughts they wouldn’t have come up reading this book alone.

So what was it that got the group in synch? Across Many Mountains, a memoir by Swiss-Tibetan actor, model, movie-maker and political activist, Yangzom Brauen, tells the story of three generations of Tibetan women: the author, her mother and her grandmother, a Buddhist nun.  It begins with the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the early 1950s, which forced the grandmother and her husband, a Buddhist monk, to flee to India with their two daughters, ages 6 and 2.  They trekked for a month over the Himalayas to India, where they subsisted in hand to mouth fashion for several years as refugees.  When the author’s mother was 16, she drew the attention of a young scholar of Buddhism who hailed from an important family in Switzerland.  He fell madly in love and would not give up his pursuit until he persuaded the young Sonam and her mother (the only family members still living) to move to Bern, Switzerland.  Sonam and Martin, the Swiss scholar, married, had two children (the author and her brother) and lived a comfortable life in Switzerland and then New York City, where the book leaves off, around 2008.

Through the vastly different lives of these three remarkable women we learn about Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism, the violent re-education the Chinese soldiers forced on the country, as well as how their experiences affected their lives.   We see how Buddhism gives the grandmother the inner strength to carry her through one trial after another with clarity of purpose, whereas, Sonam, who left Tibet when she was six had a desperate longing for a permanent home and always felt out of place.  The author, who was born in Switzerland and only visited Tibet, developed a deep love and commitment to preserving the Tibetan culture through her grandmother’s teachings.

All this was relayed in what one book club member described as a conversation with the reader.  We were gently told about all these events, rather than being shown.  So, it was a fascinating and easy read rather than a heart-wrenching tale of bloodshed, deprivation and oppression.

Next month we will discuss My Green Manifesto by David Gessner, which is about cleaning up the Charles River in Boston.  If you would like to join us, read the book and come to the discussion on Thursday, January 4 at 10:00 a.m. in the Hermann Foundation Meeting Room.  If you want a print copy of the book, you will need to order it from the Commonwealth catalog as all print copies from Cape Cod libraries are spoken for.  There are also two copies of the ebook in Overdrive in epub and Kindle formats.  If you need help getting a copy, please contact the reference department at 508-457-2555 x 6 or

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