Since 2009, a spate of Tibetan self-immolations protesting Chinese policies have taken place, bringing the fraught history and relations between Tibet and China to Western attention once again.
In Eat the Buddha, Barbara Demick journeys to Aba, a small town perched at an altitude of 12,000 feet on the Eastern edges of the Tibetan plateau, where the protests began and continue apace, and which is now the engine of Tibetan resistance. Tibetans there have been in an uneasy compromise with the Chinese for decades, living nomadically on the plateau in the summer and moving to concrete housing in the winter, sending their children to the monasteries to be educated, practising polyandry as is their custom / yet all the time subject to oppressive restrictions.
Travelling in disguise to evade the Chinese authorities, Demick interviewed Aba's residents over a three year period, among them a 17-year-old novice monk contemplating protest suicide, the last princess of the region exiled during the Cultural Revolution, a young woman trapped in a bigamous marriage, and Tibetan entrepreneurs and nomads. Weaving together their stories with the history of China's dominance over Tibet, she creates a vivid, intimate and utterly gripping portrait of the lives of Tibetans and the challenges they face today, locked in a struggle for identity and independence against one of the most powerful countries in the world.