The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography (Penguin)

Tetsu Saiwai’s life history of the Tibetan spiritual leader, covering the Dalai Lama’s formative years and the Chinese takeover of his homeland.

208 pages B&W; $15.00
(W / A: Tetsu Saiwai)
The Dalai Lama is easily one of the most fascinating people in the world today, and this illustrated biography covers his remarkable life in a light, enjoyable read, despite covering some serious topics. Writer/artist Tetsu Saiwai has made a career out of doing educational comics for the past 20 years. He uses a manga style similar to Osamu Tezuka with clean, expressive linework, supported by half-tone textures. Cartoony faces mix with realistic, researched backgrounds, clothing and details that do well in establishing the time and place. For this, he drew inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun and the Dalai Lama’s own autobiography, Freedom in Exile. The 14th Dalai Lama reads like autobio, with the present-day Dalai Lama recounting his life, actually starting just before his life with the passing of the 13th in 1933 and the events leading up to 1937, when 2-year-old Tenzin Gyatso was found to be the 14th reincarnation of the spiritual leader of Tibet, the one we know today.
Most of the book focuses on his childhood as he progressed through his education, quickly taking on more and more responsibilities. At only 15 he was given full political power, and at 23 he became the spiritual leader of Tibet. Throughout this time the tensions surrounding him and his country were mounting. China, Tibet’s neighbor, was unifying under the Communist party to become the People’s Republic of China, led by Chairman Mao Zedong. They were putting increasing pressure on Tibet, claiming it to be part of China and using propaganda and political trickery to gain control. Not just after the land, they intended to erase Tibetan culture and absorb its people into China’s ways. Tibetan leaders were being forcibly taken to Beijing and "reeducated" until they acknowledged Tibet was part of China and the Communist party, its leaders. With little hope in defending their homeland, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people escaped to India in 1959, where they have lived in exile since, continuing their traditions and culture.
The book highlights the Dalai Lama’s belief in peace, non-confrontation and hope above all else. Those interested in Buddhism won’t find much of it here, as the book only touches on it occasionally, sticking to the more political aspects of his life and his inner struggles. Of course, for that you may want to check out Tezuka’s highly acclaimed series, Buddha.
This would be a great book for a classroom. Young adults (and anyone really) will find it to be a good primer on the Dalai Lama and the past hundred years of Tibet’s history. | Nick Main

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