Mantras & Misdemeanours - An Accidental Love Story

Vanessa Walker

Allen & Unwin, March 2006, $A24.95

Reviewed by Malcolm Tattersall, May 2006

Vanessa Walker, a New Zealander working in Sydney, gave up her day job to follow her interest in Tibetan Buddhism to its source. Her plan was to live in the Dalai LamaÕs new home town in Northern India for a year, writing a book about the Tibetan community in exile while studying Buddhist doctrine. She had travelled in India and Nepal before and been involved with Buddhism in Australia for nine years, so she had a good basis for the project.

She got closer to her subjects than she expected. By the end of the year she was back in New Zealand with her new husband, a disrobed Tibetan monk, and their baby.

Walker has a journalistÕs eye for key individuals and revealing images. She interviews the Dalai LamaÕs brother, leaders of the Tibetan freedom fighters, and a monk who is periodically possessed by an oracular deity. She also visits Nepal and a huge Tibetan monastery in the South of India and sees the tourists and the beggars ebb and flow with the seasons. She learns gradually that the society she admired from a distance is still admirable at close range but as complex and self-contradictory as any other.

Vanessa WalkerÕs main subject became, as her subtitle suggests, her own experiences rather than the Tibetan refugee community, and Mantras and Misdemeanours consequently has bizarre affinities with Almost French or A Year in Provence. Most of the book was written under difficult circumstances but it is an easy, enjoyable, colourful read.

Created 28 April 2008