Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Mountains of Tibet by Mordicai Gerstein

This is a beautifully illustrated book loosely based on the principles of reincarnation. It's about a boy in Tibet who grows up to be an old man and then dies, after spending a lifetime with his wife and family. During his life, he always yearned to travel and discover new worlds, so he is offered the chance to reincarnate. First he chooses a galaxy, a star, a planet, and then he gets to decide what animal he wants to be. Even though there are so many options, he chooses to be human. And despite all the regions out there, rich with culture and delicious food, he ends up going back to Tibet... only this time, as a girl.

THE MOUNTAINS OF TIBET is a beautiful story for several reasons. First, it introduces children to the concept of mortality in a non-threatening way. One day, all of us will die. It is an upsetting thought, but it is also the force that drives us to live as thoroughly and richly as we can, knowing that one day, we won't any longer. The main character of this story lives a long and happy life, and even though he never got to travel and explore, his family ended up making his entire world, which is sweet.

Second, in the age of #fomo, it is more relevant than ever, because it teaches kids that even though we might yearn for what we don't have, it's often the familiar that we come back to again and again because that's what makes us feel good and loved. The man stayed home to be with his family because they loved him and made him happy. When he had the chance to start over, he went back to Tibet, because the happy memories he had there persisted over his lifetime, and filled him with joy. This book isn't saying that novel experiences aren't worth it, but that we don't need them to be happy, and that even after we have them, they might not be the things that keep us satisfied and content.

Lastly, it shows that we're all part of a rich, elegant tapestry. All living things are valid and beautiful in their own way, and when we die, we're still part of that tapestry-- just not in the way we used to be. I am not religious but I think that's a message that transcends religion: understanding that our lives are short and finite, and that death is simply a natural process that happens to all of us, whether we're plant, animal, or even the universe itself. All things, eventually, come to an end.

I used to love this book when I was a kid and rereading it now, as an adult, I enjoyed it still. Definitely recommend it for kids and it's also a nice book for adults. I have a friend who read this together with a loved one who was in hospice, and it really gave the two of them some much-needed closure, as it enabled them to find some beauty and hope during what was a really sad time.

5 out of 5 stars

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