I’ve just finished a second detective story set in China. This latest, Beautiful Ghosts, by Eliot Pattison, takes place in Tibet for the most part, with some excursions to Beijing and Seattle. It’s an exciting, convoluted story, with intriguing Chinese and Tibetan characters. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t portray Chinese officials in a flattering way, and the story of the brutal Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950 is important to the plot. What I like, though, is that although it certainly shows Tibetan Buddhism, and characters, in a sympathetic way, it isn’t a predictable cowboys and Indians story, of bad Chinese and good Tibetans (and Americans).
Not only does Pattison present a religious tradition in rich detail, but he also shows how differently people from different cultures can see the same thing. When a Chinese character visits Seattle, he tells his American friend, “What you called the shopping center. You said you took me there so I could see America. When I first stepped inside I thought it was a church. Then I saw the people there. I don’t know, I have no words. I made me sad somehow. I’m sorry.”
It’s hard, these days, for Americans to complain about the brutality and secrecy of other governments.