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Publisher's Summary

A gripping portrait of modern Tibet told through the lives of its people, from the best-selling author of Nothing to Envy.

“You simply cannot understand China without reading Barbara Demick on Tibet.” (Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition)

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by: 

  • Parul Sehgal, The New York Times 
  • The New York Times Book Review
  • The Washington Post
  • NPR 
  • The Economist

Just as she did with North Korea, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick explores one of the most hidden corners of the world. She tells the story of a Tibetan town perched 11,000 feet above sea level that is one of the most difficult places in all of China for foreigners to visit. 

Ngaba was one of the first places where the Tibetans and the Chinese Communists encountered one another. In the 1930s, Mao Zedong’s Red Army fled into the Tibetan plateau to escape their adversaries in the Chinese Civil War. By the time the soldiers reached Ngaba, they were so hungry that they looted monasteries and ate religious statues made of flour and butter - to Tibetans, it was as if they were eating the Buddha. Their experiences would make Ngaba one of the engines of Tibetan resistance for decades to come, culminating in shocking acts of self-immolation. 

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, a young Tibetan nomad who becomes radicalized in the storied monastery of Kirti, 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? 

Illuminating a culture that has long been romanticized by Westerners as deeply spiritual and peaceful, Demick reveals what it is really like to be a Tibetan in the 21st century, trying to preserve one’s culture, faith, and language against the depredations of a seemingly unstoppable, technologically all-seeing superpower. Her depiction is nuanced, unvarnished, and at times shocking. 

©2020 Barbara Demick (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“You simply cannot understand China without reading Barbara Demick on Tibet. Her work is fair-minded, chilling, awe-inspiringly rigorous, and as vivid as cinema. Eat the Buddha is a warning to anyone who tries to analyze China through its cities: You will misread the future if you overlook the war over diversity and the struggles for cultural survival.” (Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition)

“Deeply and meticulously researched, Eat the Buddha tells the story of the beautiful area of eastern Tibet, land of the fabled Mei kingdom, where the Tibetan people have thrived in a majestic environment for several millennia, only to suffer horrifically in the last 70 years with the invasion and colonization by the Communist Chinese. Demick is to be given highest honors for her unflinching account, and her readers will be rewarded with a transformative encounter with the real lives of some extraordinary people.” (Robert A. F. Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor Emeritus, Columbia University) 

“Barbara Demick has produced an elegiac narrative of a frontier town that is a hotbed of resistance on the Tibetan plateau. With novelistic depth and through characteristically painstaking research, Demick offers a poignant reminder of the enduring power of memory to illuminate untold histories. Eat the Buddha is an exemplary piece of storytelling.” (Tsering Shakya, author of The Dragon in the Land of Snows

What listeners say about Eat the Buddha

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TIBET

Barbara Demick gives listeners a picture of Tibet with a darkness that rivals the narrative she creates for North Korea in “Nothing to Envy”. “Eat the Buddha” is a reminder of China’s insistence on Tibet’s acceptance of Communist authority in the face of Buddhist and Tibetan ethnic and religious identity. Like the Uyghurs in mainland China, Tibetans practice a religion that conflicts with Communist atheism. Unlike Islamist Uyghurs, Buddhists eschew violence against oppressors.

The last chapters of Demick’s book acknowledge her extensive research. She notes Tibetans are better off now than they were during the Mao years. However, she explains Tibetans do not have the same economic opportunity as the ethnic Chinese. It is important to be Chinese and even more important to be a member of the Communist party.

Demick draws an interesting picture of Tibet. It reveals both the truth and weakness of one historian’s view of China and Tibet. It is founded on the truth of what a number of Tibetans remember of the Mao’ years and the current relationship of China and Tibet. As is true of all books of history, China’s and Tibet’s past is not perfectly clear and the future, at best, becomes a cloudy past.

3 people found this helpful

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Loved it

I learned a lot about an area I've been fascinated by my whole life. Demick illuminates the story of Tibet beautifully.

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Interesting but sad histiry of Tibet rinse 1920s

Very factual history featuring a few characters and the last King and his family. Depiction of China's takeover and the atrocities endured by the people of Tibet. Some insights into monastery life and the Dalai Lana are also featured. Narrator has pleasing voice.

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Terrible boring book

I could not get onto this book. So ploddingly written. Hard to believe as history because written from the point of view of the protagonists--how does the author know any of this??

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Interesting History

Brings to life the history of Tibet since the Chinese walked in and took over. Treated like second class citizens in their homeland these people have had to make great sacrifices to survive. They hold the Dali Lama close to their hearts. While he is alive there is hope. what will happen when he dies? There will never be another.

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Excellent writing, moving and powerful stories

Powerful listen- written in a moving but not overstated way- great journalistic ethics and research in writing. EXCELLENT narrator. Excellent research and journalism. One of the top 3 listens of more than 50 books I have Audibled. I now have purchased her book on Korea.

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Very good story

Good cultural insight woven into a fascinating story. Only complaint is the narrator’s Pǔtōnghuà; I couldn’t understand her enunciation.

1 person found this helpful