Seven Years in Tibet (Dutton, $5.00) by Heinrich Harrer is in one respect a unique item in the literature about Tibet by Occidentals. The “forbidden land" has hitherto been described to us by authors who saw it from above, that is to say, as more or less privileged visitors. Herr Harrer, however, got to know Tibet from below — as a vagabond. After escaping from a British internment camp in India in 1944, he and a companion entered Tibet with no papers, no equipment other than the few possessions of prisoners of war, and very limited funds. Harrer’s story is that of a Westerner who lived as the Tibetans live; who had to find wavs and means of supporting himself in Lhasa, and who rose to an honored position as consultant to the government and tutor to the Dalai Lama.
Herr Harrer, a noted Austrian skier and mountain climber, was returning from a Himalayan expedition when the outbreak of war led to his detainment. While planning his escape, he learned the rudiments of Tibetan and later he came to speak the language pretty fluently. His book — which shows him to be an exceptionally determined, courageous, and resourceful man — is written in the same sort of simple, factual manner as Kon-Tiki and it has a very similar appeal.
First there is the incredibly adventurous twenty-one-month trek across rugged mountain and desolate plain to the mysterious heartland of Tibet; then the fascinating picture, rich in amazing detail, of life in Lhasa—a city without wheels and without surgery, where it is a mortal sin to kill even an earthworm or a fly; where the monks, the only doctors, treat hysteria by branding the patient with hot irons; where a public shower bath costs more than a sheep but Elizabeth Arden cosmetics are on sale; where polygamy and polyandry are both practiced, apparently without conspicuous marital discord. Harrer’s final chapters draw an intimate portrait of the youthful Dalai Lama, a lonely and affectionate figure who comports himself touchingly under the awesome burden of divinity. Forty pages of photographs give us striking glimpses of a strange world.
Though it obviously has much in common with Annapurna, The Conquest of Everest (Dutton, $6.00) tells a rather different kind of story. Annapurna recounted a stirringly improvised triumph (the original goal was another mountain), attended by disaster and terrible sufferings it might loosely be described as a memorable how-not-to-do-it book. The Conquest of Everest is a memorable how-to-do-it book: it chronicles a spectacular victory achieved more or less according to plan. For that reason it is perhaps not quite as rich in high drama as Annapurna, but Sir John Hunt’s narrative seemed to me the more consistently absorbing. For I doubt that the literature of mountaineering contains a more explicit and lucid account of the ascent of a great peak. Fifty-six fine photographs help one to visualize the Himalayan landscape.
In the course of previous expeditions, at least six climbers had attained $28,000 feet; it seemed that the problem of Everest was simply that the mountain was 1000 feet too high. The technical climbing difficulties, Sir John explains, are fewer and less severe than in the Alps; but they are formidable all the same, and above 21,000 feet man’s physical condition deteriorates drastically. Thus at the point at which progressive weakening sets in, there are still 8000 feet to go. Then, too, while the Himalayan weather makes rush tactics essential, the great height of Everest makes the climber’s rate of progress very slow.
The first great hurdle was to open up a route over which the heavily laden porters could negotiate the Khumbu Icefall, an immense, chaotic “step “ of ice rising from 18,000 to 20,000 feet. Then an advance base was established in the snowy inferno of the Western Cwm, a long valley sloping upward to the foot of Everest’s neighbor, Lhotse. Then came the difficult technical ice work on the wind-swept Lhotse face, and the hauling of Assault supplies up it to Camp VIII, at 26,000 feet, on the South Col between Lhotse and Everest. From here Bourdillon and Evans reached Everest’s South Summit, 28,700 feet high, but could go no further. Another camp was set up at 27,900 feet; and on May 29, Hillary and Tenzing overcame the final challenge—a steep, snow-covered ridge, flanked by awesome precipices, that rises 400 feet to the crest of Everest.
Why did the Hunt group succeed where so many others had failed? The experience of previous expeditions, Sir John stresses, was a decisive contribution. Among other things, it convinced him that the final Assault camp must be placed higher than ever before so that the summiters would not have a long climb to the top. The second factor was the thoroughness with which the expedition was mounted; if, for instance, Tom Bourdillon had not had the foresight to provide clipper-type razors, long beards might have caused a leak in the indispensable oxygen masks. The third factor was selflessly executed teamwork — when you have read this story you realize that every one of the climbers played just about as crucial a role as the finalists. And lastly, luck lent a hand. If the weather on May 29 had not been favorable, Everest would in all probability still be unclimbed.
Explorer of the unconscious
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud 1856-1900: The Formative Years and the Great Discoveries (Basic Books, $6.75) is the first installment of a three-volume work by Dr. Ernest Jones which promises to be the definitive life of Freud and one of the great biographies of our time.
The author, a leading authority in the psychoanalytical field, was associated with Freud for forty years, and Freud’s family has given him access to a huge quantity of letters and other material hitherto kept private. Dr. Jones — whose admiration for the master has not blunted the critical edge of his study — has shaped the fruits of gigantic research into a clear, forceful narrative, as masterly in its treatment of the drama of Freud’s personal life as in its exposition of his intellectual progress towards the great discoveries. While applying to the full the insights of psychoanalysis, Dr. Jones achieves a biography which, so far from being a clinical case history, brings out the humanity of its subject in the richest possible dimensions.
Freud’s career, besides being an epic of momentous discovery and exceptionally hard-earned success, also contains a great lov e story. Poverty was an insistent problem until Freud was well into his thirties, and it delayed his marriage to Martha Bernays for five harrowing years. Freud’s relationship with his fiancée—now fully revealed for the first time — was a veritable grande passion. His letters to Martha, says Dr. Jones, “would be a not unworthy contribution to the great love literature of the world.”
The man whose name now automatically suggests the revolution in sexual mores was himself chaste, even puritanical — he did not consider Tom Jones fit reading for his wife; and he said that life had nothing more delightful to offer than “our ideal of womanhood.” The only serious rival his wife ever had, Freud affirmed, was the anatomy of the brain.
Perhaps the most astonishing achievement in Freud’s career was the selfanalysis through which he mastered his own neuroses and arrived at some of the fundamental insights of psychoanalysis. He was often appalled by what he uncovered in the depths of his own being, and his perseverance for years with this immensely difficult self-exploration was a titanic feat.
Freud emerges from these pages as an heroic figure of a stamp which, in today’s world, evokes the adjective old-fashioned. Reserved, strict, frugal, and fearlessly independent, he was a man guided by his own inner lights and firmly buttressed by a high sense of values* A comment he made about himself, half-seriously, sums up the essential quality of his mind: “I am not really a man of science ... I am nothing but by temperament a conquistador . . . with the curiosity, the boldness and tenacity that belongs to that type.”
A lady much libeled
Although scholars have long since punctured the legendary imago of Lucrezia Borgia as a monster of depravity her name is still usually associated w ith poisonings and extravagant vice. Now there comes from Italy what will probably remain the standard biography of this much libeled lady, 77m Life and Times of Lucrezia Borgia (Harcourt, Brace, $5.00). The author, Maria Bellonci, spent seven years sifting the evidence with meticulous thoroughness, and she shows that Lucrezia had little in common with the murderess of Victor Hugo’s drama and Donizetti s opera.
Signora Bellonei re-creates a Lucrezia who was, above all a woman of warm feeling; a woman whose emotional heritage as a Borgia was in conflict with a genuine streak of piety and a. longing for an orderly life. Lucrezia “s “crime,” if it can be called that, was her enduring love for and loyalty to the Borgias. She married three times to serve the interests of her dissolute and ruthlessly ambitious father, Pope Alexander VI. And she remained devoted to her ferocious brother Cesare, though it was virtually certain that he was responsible for the murder of Iter beloved eldest brother, then her first lover, and finally her second husband, with whom she was in love.
As wife of t he Duke of Ferrara, she surv ived the ruin of tfxe Borgias. Site handled her political duties with dignity; filled her court with poets and humanists; avoided overt scandal in her two great love all airs, and, by the grace of her personality, made herself well liked by the people of Ferrara. A year before Iter death, she joined the Order of St. Francis.
In addition to its scholarly merits, Sigiiora Bellonei s study ol the everfascinating Borgias and their era is an admirably written book, lull of color and movement. It has been exceedingly well translated by Bernard and Barbara Wall.
Spain today: America tomorrow
Lately, more nonfiction titles that invite attention have been coming off the presses than I can manage to cover in this space. But in the fiction department, the pickings continue to be decidedly slim. The most interesting item in the batch of novels that I’ve just looked into is The Final Hours (Knopf, $3.50) by Jose Suárez Carreño. This and The Hive (published a few months ago) are, to tlie best of my knowledge, the only novels of any merit which have come to us from Franco’s Spain, and both are colored by a profoundly despairing view of life.
The Final Hours (translated by Anthony Kerrigan) follows its three main characters around Madrid throughout the course of a single night. One is a rich, middle-aged businessman, tortured by impotence; the second a beautiful young girl, the daughter of impoverished middle-class parents, who has turned prostitute; the third a fearless street urchin, armored with a dignity which shines through his rags. To each of these characters, for different reasons, life offers no hope.
The novel moves, contrapuntally, through the night world of the rich and of the very poor; and its picture of the lower depths contains some memorable vignettes. The action is choppy, but the author keeps a firm grip on his people and on the reader. His novel has intensity, a flow of striking incident, and a sharply individual flavor.
Philip Wylie is a crusader who, as an essayist, often packs as lively a punch as anyone in the U.S.A. As a novelist, however, his messianic fervor is apt to express itself in an embarrassing blend of sententiousness and corn. Mr. Wylie is currently crusading for bigger and better Civil Defense, a cause of great urgency. But the novel in which he dramatizes his sermon is, I’m sorry to say, a piece of earnest-minded trash, with cardboard characters and plotting that reeks of the cliché.
The locale of Tomorrow! Rinehart, $3.50) is two neighboring Midwestern cities, one of which, Green Prairie, has been good about Civil Defense and the other bad. But within the good city there are bad people who are obstructing Civil Defense. When the Russians unleash a tornado of atomic-cum-germ warfare on the U.S.A., the good people in Green Prairie keep their heads and most of them survive, the bad run amuck and are horribly punished for their sins. The only effective part of the book is the apocalyptic description of the hellof-bombs-to-come, and it is followed by a nose dive into bathos. Civil Defense-minded boy finally wins Civil Defense-minded girl; and the former, an architect, can at last look forward to plenty of work designing cities that will be better planned for Civil Defense.
Man in revolt
Albert Camus describes his book, The Rebel (Knopf, $4.00), as “an attempt to understand the time I live in” and to arrive at a philosophy of politics. It is the most intellectually exciting and the most rewarding essay in its field that has come my way in a long time: a book that may well find a durable place in the library of political thought. When it was published in France thirty-two months ago, its impact on European intellectuals was so great that Sir Herbert Read wrote in his Foreword to the British edition: “A cloud that has oppressed the European mind for more than a century begins to lift.”This is a very densely reasoned book, and it is not possible in a few hundred words to do more than indicate sketchily the general drift of Camus’s thought. He speaks as a “metaphysical rebel,” as one who seeks rules of conduct outside the realm of religion and of absolute values, and who sees in the spirit of rebellion the very wellsprings of human creativity. What drew him into this inquiry is the dismal fact that a century of revolt has produced tyrannies and rationalizations of tyranny more vicious than the original evils; and that our age, though it claims to be revolutionary, displays on all sides a passion for conformity.
Where, Camus asks, did the spirit of rebellion go astray? His answer is that rebellion lost sight of the limits which its own values impose and degenerated into revolution, an all-ornothing attitude which claims total freedom to impose its ideas. The true rebel makes no such claim, for what he attacks is unlimited power. He wants it recognized that freedom has limits—the limit being that every man must remain free to rebel. If the rebel finds himself compelled to kill —even a tyrant — he must accept death in order to demonstrate that murder is a limit which can only be violated once.
Thus the path of the rebel, as defined by Camus, emerges as a difficult middle course between the attitudes symbolized by the Yogi and the Commissar. Its beacons are human solidarity; the knowledge that means determine ends; and the inflexible principle that political action is heading into crime when it abridges any man’s freedom to proclaim dissent.
Camus asserts, in sum, that today ‘s political ills have their roots in immoderate confidence that man can bring about that which only a God could create—the earthly paradise; excessive pretensions have led to the justification of hideous excesses. Precisely because it is so profoundly opposed in spirit to resignation or passivity, The Rebel is a singularly telling statement of a philosophy of moderation. Born and raised on the shores of the Mediterranean, Camus brings to the frenzied North — in terms embedded in contemporary realities—the Greek doctrine that hubris, that pride which knows no limits, is fated to encounter Nemesis.
The Rebel is a piece of reasoning in the great tradition of French logic. There is no trace of sentimentality, of rhetoric or of cant. The argument is Vitalized by controlled passion and a literary style studded with flashing phrases and arresting aphorisms. But what, above all, is so exhilarating about Camus’s essay is that here is the voice of a man of unshakable decency.