When I started reading Heinrich Harrer’s Sieben Jahre in Tibet I didn’t know the “seven years” referred to how long it would take me to read it. Maybe it wasn’t quite that bad but between resuming German lessons and life in general, it took me much longer than I had anticipated to finish the book. Initially when I started reading the book, I got borrowed an English language translation from the library. During the check out process, the librarian mentioned he didn’t realize the film was based on a book. Never a good sign.
I have to admit, this book holds a special place in my heart. I’d watched the film, dubbed in German, during my private German lessons. When I went to Munich, I had a list of books I wanted to buy. But I couldn’t seem to find the book on the shelves. Somehow, even with my shaky German, I got up the confidence to ask a woman at Hugendubel. “Ich suche ein Buch, dass ich nicht finden kann.” Shockingly, she understood me! After a few exchanges I placed an order for the book and was given a receipt to pick it up the next day. But apparently I spelled my last name wrong. When I picked up Sieben Jahre in Tibet the following day, it had a label on it stating it was reserved for me — misspelled last name and all. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it means a little something extra because of that experience.
The book itself isn’t so easy. There are a lot of words that are specialized and a lot of words referring to the region. Sometimes it can be difficult to know which are German words I don’t know and which are actually Tibetan words. In addition Sieben Jahre in Tibet was written in the 1950s so while it’s not outdated, it’s not super modern either.
If you’ve seen the film, prepare for some differences. The book is far less dramatic than the film. Sieben Jahre in Tibet, the book, is almost more of Harrer’s anthropological notes on life than it is an adventure book. While the film portrays the relationship with the Dalai Lama as a major portion of the book, it isn’t until the final quarter or so of the book that the then young man enters the picture. But I found that final section of the book, where Harrer recalls his relationship teaching and learning from the Dalai Lama the most engrossing.
In general, I struggled with Sieben Jahre in Tibet. A lot. This book is definitely of a somewhat advanced reading level because of its large vocabulary and subject matter. But it’s also a great challenge that you can come back to. Now I can say, I did it. I read Sieben Jahre in Tibet.