Book review: Last Seen in Lhasa by Claire Scobie

What begins as a trip to Tibet in search of a rare red lily develops into a spiritual journey for Claire that eventually spreads over several years. Her friendship with Ani, a nomadic nun, is one of the two threads that run through the book, the other being the changing tide in Tibet.

As Tibet unfolds in Claire’s narrative, we are able to glimpse behind the heavily curtained country to a land that is complex and politically raw, and where younger generations are having a crisis of identity. Their new identities are a hybrid; Chinese and Western influences sit uncomfortably with the spiritual and political history of their country, and their increased marginalisation is a stark contrast to the more spiritual passages of Claire’s story.

As her bond with Ani becomes stronger, we get a sense of Ani’s grace and unshakable belief in herself, but above all, Claire has captured what it means to care for another with your whole being, unconditionally. So palpable is the connection between Ani and Claire that it pulsates from the page. This is a book full of heart, short on clichéd sentiment and not afraid to explore the links between poverty and foreign influences, as well as the darker aspects of the mountaineering subculture. A book as rare as the red lily itself; beautiful.

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