Streets with Memories
Columbia University Press
Streets with Memories
Columbia University Press
There are many Lhasas. One is a grid of uniform boulevards lined with plush hotels, all-night bars, and blue-glass-fronted offices. Another is a warren of alleyways that surround a seventh-century temple built to pin down a supine demoness. A web of Stalinist, rectangular blocks houses the new nomenklatura. Crumbling mansions, once home to noble ministers, famous lovers, nationalist spies, and covert revolutionaries, now serve as shopping malls and faux-antique hotels. Each embodiment of the city partakes of the others' memories, whispered across time and along the city streets.
In this imaginative new work, Robert Barnett offers a powerful and lyrical exploration of a city long idealized, disregarded, or misunderstood by outsiders. Looking to its streets and stone, Robert Barnett presents a searching and unforgettable portrait of Lhasa, its history, and its illegibility. His book not only offers itself as a manual for thinking about contemporary Tibet but also questions our ways of thinking about foreign places.
Barnett juxtaposes contemporary accounts of Tibet, architectural observations, and descriptions by foreign observers to describe Lhasa and its current status as both an ancient city and a modern Chinese provincial capital. His narrative reveals how historical layering, popular memory, symbolism, and mythology constitute the story of a city. Besides the ancient Buddhist temples and former picnic gardens of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa describes the urban sprawl, the harsh rectangular structures, and the geometric blue-glass tower blocks that speak of the anxieties of successive regimes intent upon improving on the past. In Barnett's excavation of the city's past, the buildings and the city streets, interwoven with his own recollections of unrest and resistance, recount the story of Tibet's complex transition from tradition to modernity and its painful history of foreign encounters and political experiment.
Robert Barnett offers a needed cautionary note regarding understanding Tibet, and does so in an elegant and poetic fashion.Melvyn Goldstein, Case Western University, author of A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951: The Demise of a Lamist State
Robert Barnett has written a book which manages to describe Tibet, a country too often mythologized by outsiders, in a manner which is both accessible and erudite, and at the same time startlingly humble.Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History
Robert Barnett has written a strikingly original book. With a rigorous eye turned on Lhasa, one of the world's most compelling cities, he offers a rich archaeology of Tibetan history in context, in prose never less than elegant, often deeply memorable. Barnett holds this jewel of a city up to the light, turns it in every direction; the result is a gemlike book, one that will stay in the reader's mind, illuminating a vast continent of thought and feeling.Jay Parini, author of One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner
Barnett's book is a wonderful read... This is a book that will transfix readers.Booklist
[A] brilliant rumination on Tibet's capital.Tricycle
Most readers of this fascinating book will finish reading it feeling that they truly know the Tibetan City.Lucian Pye, Foreign Affairs
[Barnett] emerges in these pages as a perceptive and sympathetic observer of a city that has often been described, but rarely understood.Isabel Hilton, London Review of Books
An imaginative and atmospheric book... which will appeal to all those interested in Tibet.Wendy Palace, Asian Affairs
An eloquent account of the changes in the city's geographyPankaj Mishra, New York Review of Books
[This] rumination on the capital of Tibet is the rare book that can draw tears just with its assemblage of neutral, entirely unpolemical facts.Pico Iyer, TIME Asia
"Barnett's ruminations on Lhasa in this slim text are eloquently written, captivating reading, and highly recommended.Tom Grunfeld, China Review International
[A] remarkable book.Elidor Mehilli, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism
A fascinating account of Lhasa.Ben Hillman, The China Journal
A Note on History
A Note on Terminology
1. The Unitary View
2. Foreign Visitors, Oscillations, and Extremes
3. The Square View and the Outstretched Demoness
4. The City, the Circle
5. Monumental Statements and Street Plans
6. From Concrete to Blue Glass
7. The New Flamboyance and the Tibetan Palm Tree
9. The Multilayered Streets
Read the >preface to Lhasa (pdf)
- Read Barnett’s post for the New York Review of Books blog, How to Greet the Dalai Lama
- Robert Barnett interviewed by NPR on the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet.
- Listen to an interview with Robert Barnett on NPR.
- Read an interview with Robert Barnett on Foreign Policy