Dharamshala — A new book focused on a Tibetan female protagonist and based on the story of Tibetans in exile, Mountains to Manhattan by Pinakie Kansabanik, is a refreshing breath of general accuracy regarding the Tibetan experience in diaspora.
Protagonist Tenla struggles with the questions: What if you were born without a country? What if you were branded a refugee as you took your first step? Tenla’s coming of age story, her struggles as a student, a daughter, a wife, and her attempts to gain a visa to a foreign country are the central idea of the storyline.
The story is believable, the situation is authentic, and any one who is familiar with the Tibetan community in exile can relate to the feelings of being in between, as the author is able to evoke. Tenla grows up hearing stories of her homeland from her grandmother, picturing it in her mind, but never having taken steps in to its borders.
This imagined homeland grows tarnished as she ages, as Tenla feels frustrated at the state of her society and the hope to return her grandmother clings to.
Sick of being called a refugee and longing for a nationality to call her own, Tenla embarks on a journey that so many others have; following the diaspora in to Europe and eventually America.
Other genuine themes the book touches on is the burden of family as she travels far away, the expectations that follow her, and her struggle to remain connected to her identity as she travels further and further onward.
While the book is an honest taste of the lives of Tibetans in exile, and a generally accurate depiction, making the novel feel more like a work of non-fiction, the pace of the story wavers towards the middle, never quite picking up steam or coming to a satisfying conclusion.
The experience of those in exile is difficult to capture, and even if, perhaps, the unsatisfying ending had been a decision to leave the reader in limbo the way many refugees are also left, it seems as though Kansabanik slightly missed the mark.
Overall, for those interested in the Tibetan diasporic experience, the novel could be a success, but it might not gain the excitement or attention of others.