Eat the Buddha spans decades of modern Tibetan and Chinese history, as told through the private lives of Demick’s subjects, among them a princess whose family is wiped out during the Cultural Revolution, an upwardly mobile entrepreneur who falls in love with a Chinese woman, a poet and intellectual who risks everything to voice his resistance, and a Tibetan schoolgirl forced to choose at an early age between her family and the elusive lure of Chinese money. All of them face the same dilemma: Do they resist the Chinese, or do they join them? Do they adhere to Buddhist teachings of compassion and nonviolence, or do they fight?
The method is programmatic openness, deep listening, a willingness to be waylaid; the effect, a prismatic picture of history as experienced and understood by individuals in their full amplitude and idiosyncrasy ... masterly ... Demick covers an awe-inspiring breadth of history—from the heyday of the Tibetan empire, which could compete with those of the Turks and Arabs, to the present day, as the movement for Tibetan independence has faltered and transformed into an effort at cultural and spiritual survival. She charts the creative rebellions of recent years, the efforts at revitalizing the language and traditions, Tibetans’ attachment to the Dalai Lama (and their criticisms). Above all, Demick wants to give room for contemporary Tibetans to testify to their desires.
... a brilliantly reported and eye-opening work of narrative nonfiction ... Demick guides us through the phases of oppression and defiance, decade by appalling decade, which have led the Chinese government to exert such heavy-handed control ... There’s a good deal of exposition, all of it essential, but whenever possible, she presents Ngaba’s brutal history through the stories of individual characters ... I occasionally felt I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the players, some of whom vanish for long stretches—in one case, for more than 100 pages—before re-entering the narrative. But Demick...knows what she’s doing. As Eat the Buddha unfolds, we come to understand why she has introduced this particular cast in sufficient detail to make us care about them. They aren’t just a representative sampling of Ngaba residents; they are people who have intersected with history.
... a deeply textured, densely reported and compelling exploration of Ngaba, Sichuan ... she captures crushing historical events through the stories of individuals ... Demick brilliantly unpicks the connections between the self-immolations and Tibetans’ past ... The richness of this book lies in its nuance as much as its extraordinary detail.