The Magician of Lhasa
By David Michie
December 7, 2009
"If we’ve had one previous lifetime, then we’ve had limitless lives before. Our subtle consciousness has existed since Beginningless Time. We’ve had not just hundreds of lives, not just thousands. And not only on planet earth, which is like a grain of sand on the beach of a universe, which has no end. The extent of our experience is as limitless, as infinite as time and space. And during all these lifetimes, who have been our Isabellas? Our lovers? Our friends and enemies?"
David Michie has been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for over ten years, having studied in remote temples in the Himalayas and made tour arrangements for the Dalai Lama. His Buddhism for Busy People is Australia's third best-selling book on the subject. Though ostensibly a thriller, his new novel, The Magician of Lhasa, is Michie's way of introducing the basic concepts of Buddhism to a much broader audience than can be reached through specialized nonfiction. It is also the debut novel for Trapdoor Books, a new Colorado-based press specializing in "geek fiction," their affectionate term for novels aimed at intelligent, well-educated audiences, which incorporate a particular well-researched topic - "anything from Assyrian history to plasma physics" - into their engaging storylines.
The Magician of Lhasa tells two parallel narratives: that of Matt Lester, a modern-day nanotechnologist, and Tenzin Dorje, a 16-year-old novice monk fleeing the Chinese Red Army's advance across Tibet in 1959. At first glance, they seem worlds and decades apart, but it soon becomes clear that events are overlapping and who you are today is but a single manifestation of a mindstream that stretches back through beginningless time.
According to quantum science, in which Lester is an expert, atoms are actually energy that briefly condense into particles before dissipating again. Thus: physical reality is an illusion. Lester's unexpected encounters with the monk Geshe-la and subsequent immersion in Buddhist philosophy only confirm what he already knew: that all seemingly substantial things are inmaterial, with no innate qualities, existing only as possibilites. People, places, and events are neither good or bad; they are what you make of them and nothing else. The breakup of an engagement, a major career setback, a military invasion, death - all of these can be thought of as simply detours forcing the individual to strike a different path and begin anew.
Despite the partially didactic nature of The Magician of Lhasa, Michie successfully balances both the educational and fictional aspects of the story, altogether creating a fast-paced work that leaves the reader with new insights into the Buddhist faith. Like all good works of geek fiction, The Magician of Lhasa is not a book to be forgotten once finished. Instead I feel like I just had a quick crash course in the basic tenets of Buddhism, along with compelling scientific evidence proving their benefits to emotional and physical health. I have to confess that when I saw the word "thriller" I was skeptical as to how this book would turn out. I've always associated that label with cheap paperbacks purchased at the grocery store. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I want to learn more! Geek fiction WIN!