Deep in the heart of Tibet, Shan Tao Yun, an exiled Chinese national and a former Beijing government Inspector, is caught between the brutal Chinese army and a Western oil company. Shan has agreed to lead an expedition to return the eye of an idol, stolen almost a century ago and recently, clandestinely recovered, to a distant valley, an act that will fulfill an important Tibetan prophecy. But the pilgrimage turns into a desperate flight when the monk who is to lead them is murdered. Shan also discovers that the stone was stolen back from a brigade of the Chinese army that is now in hot pursuit. Still possessing an investigator's love of truth, Shan faces a perplexing tangle of mysteries.
In this third suspenseful mystery-thriller from Edgar winner Pattison (The Skull Mantra; Water Touching Stone), discredited former Beijing police investigator Shan Tao Yun, unofficially released from a central Tibetan gulag, is now living with a group of outlaw Buddhist monks, some of whom helped him through his most unbearable prison experiences. In gratitude he and his friend, the renegade monk Lokesh, agree to escort a stolen religious artifact to the remote Yapchi Valley, the site, coincidentally, of international oil explorations, from which an American engineer has disappeared. Chinese plans to clear the valley and relocate its farmers and sheepherders to cities will profit the mining project and aid the Chinese "in another effort to pry Tibet's collective fingers from its rosary." Just as the holy artifact is a mystical symbol of Tibetan culture and Buddhism, so the multilayered story is imbued with Tibetan belief, civilization and politics. Readers with little knowledge of Tibet's religion and history may have difficulty following the plot with its large cast of varied, well-drawn Tibetans, Chinese and Americans, countless treks through rugged, stunning landscapes and the numerous side plots including several murders some of which are red herrings. Pattison's empathy for the cause of Tibetan independence is admirable, but it often overwhelms his story. The book, which is far too long and discursive, becomes a polemic that dilutes Shan's search for the truth. National author tour. (Sept. 16) Forecast: While not much in the news of late, the fate of Tibet remains a hot issue. Look for strong demand from mainstream readers, especially those with a spiritual bent. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 30, 2004
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Excerpt from Bone Mountain by Eliot Pattison
"Sift the sand to find the seeds of the universe."
The voice that came to Shan Tao Yun through the night was like wind over grass. "Let them reach the original ground then plant them," the lama said as Shan's gaze drifted from the white sand in his palm to the brilliant half moon. He knew his teacher Gendun meant Shan's original ground, the seedbed of his soul, what Gendun called Shan's beginning place. But on such a night he could not shake the sense that Tibet itself was the true original ground, that the vast remote land was the world's beginning place, where the planet, and humankind, never stopped shaping themselves, where the highest mountains, the strongest winds, and the most rugged souls had always evolved together.
Ten feet farther down the river's edge Shan's old friend and former cellmate Lokesh chanted quietly, beads entwined in his fingers, his mantra almost indistinguishable from the rustle of the water. Shan breathed in the fragrant smoke of the juniper branches they had brought to burn at the water's edge and watched as a meteor flew over a low distant shimmering in the sky, the only hint of the snowcapped mountains that lined the horizon. It seemed he could reach out and touch the moon. If the earth had a place and a season for growing souls this was surely it, the chill moonlit spring of the high Tibetan wilderness.
Shan watched as though from a distance as Gendun gently opened Shan's fingers and lifted his hand toward the moon, then lowered it and turned Shan's wrist to empty the sand into the small clay jar they had brought from their hermitage ten miles away.
"Lha gyal lo," a voice murmured on Shan's opposite side. It was the caretaker of the hermitage, Shopo, his voice cracking with emotion. "Victory to the gods." They had arrived at the river at dusk, and only now, after the lamas and Lokesh had spent two hours speaking with the nagas, the water deities, had Gendun decided Shan could begin collecting the special white sand.
"Lha gyal lo!" an excited voice echoed halfway up the slope behind them. It was one of the four dropka, Tibetan herders, who had escorted them to the river and now stood guard, nervously watching the darkened landscape. Gendun and Shopo were outlawed monks engaged in an outlawed ritual, and the patrols had grown aggressive.
Without even sensing the movement, Shan found his hand back in the water, and when he lifted it out it was full of the white sand again. In the moonlight he saw Lokesh's eyes widen and gleam with excitement as, slowly repeating the motions Gendun had shown him, Shan washed the sand in the moonlight then emptied his palm into the jar.
Gendun's face, worn smooth as a river stone, wrinkled with a smile. "Each of the grains is the essence of a mountain," the lama said as Shan's hand dipped into the water once more, "all that is left when the mountain has shed its husk." Shan had heard the words a dozen times during the past two months as they had ventured into the night to collect sands from places known only to Shopo and the herders. In their turn each of the vast peaks that lined the horizon would be reduced to such a grain, Gendun explained, and so it would be for all mountains, all continents, all planets. It would all end as it began, in such tiny seeds, and humankind in all its glory could never match the power reflected in a single grain. The words were a way of teaching impermanence, Shan knew, and of showing respect for the nagas from whom they borrowed the sand.