Tibet: Through the Red Box, by Peter Sis, ISBN 9780374375522
Five out of five stars
Presented as a work of nonfiction, this is a story that sounds like fiction, yet has enough unusual aspects to fit into the category of “you can’t make this stuff up.” When the author was very young and growing up in Czechoslovakia shortly after the end of World War II, his filmmaker father left on what he called an expedition. His mission was to film the Chinese construction crews as they were building a road through the mountains from China to Lhasa in Tibet. Since his father was also educating his Chinese counterparts on the making of documentaries, the expectation was that the project would only last a few months.
While working, there was a catastrophic accident of the side of a mountain caving down and the father and a few others were trapped on the other side. With no possibility of linking back up with the rest of the construction crew, their only hope was to continue forward in hopes of reaching the forbidden city of Lhasa.
This book is based on the father’s diary that was kept in a red box. Through it we are given a glimpse of what life was like in Tibet before the Chinese takeover. The people lived like they had for centuries, doing the same work in the same ways. Despite their clear foreign origin and strangeness, the Tibetans were very friendly and always willing to help them.
There are many interesting and unusual situations in this adventure, the most unusual involves a letter carrier. After the collapse of the mountain as the stranded team was making their way towards Lhasa, a small boy wearing bells suddenly appeared. He hands the father a letter from his family, giving new meaning to the postal carrier’s mantra, “Neither snow nor rain . . . “
This is a great story; it is easy to see why it was a winner of a Caldecott Honor.