Sky Train

Tibetan Women on the Edge of History

Canyon Sam

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / Tibet; Literature / Creative Nonfiction; Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 278 pp., 30 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: Not Available in Southeast Asia
  • Contents

Through a lyrical narrative of her journey to Tibet in 2007, activist Canyon Sam contemplates modern history from the perspective of Tibetan women. Traveling on China's new "Sky Train," she celebrates Tibetan New Year with the Lhasa family whom she'd befriended decades earlier and concludes an oral-history project with women elders.

As she uncovers stories of Tibetan women's courage, resourcefulness, and spiritual strength in the face of loss and hardship since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950, and observes the changes wrought by the controversial new rail line in the futuristic "new Lhasa," Sam comes to embrace her own capacity for letting go, for faith, and for acceptance. Her glimpse of Tibet's past through the lens of the women - a visionary educator, a freedom fighter, a gulag survivor, and a child bride - affords her a unique perspective on the state of Tibetan culture today - in Tibet, in exile, and in the widening Tibetan diaspora.

Gracefully connecting the women's poignant histories to larger cultural, political, and spiritual themes, the author comes full circle, finding wisdom and wholeness even as she acknowledges Tibet's irreversible changes.
Canyon Sam is a San Francisco writer, performance artist, and Tibet activist. Her one-woman show The Dissident was critically acclaimed in the Village Voice and the Boston Globe. This is her first book.

"Canyon Sam's Sky Train powerfully moves the heart, as it brings to life deep truths about our world today, about Tibet, the land and people and especially its outstanding women. Just as important is the author's own revelatory discovery of 'Tibet' as a compassionate, wise, and down to earth state-of-mind essential to the survival of the whole world. Words cannot express how wonderful is this honest, generous, and perceptive book."
-Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University

"Years ago following her ancestral roots to China, but finding instead Tibet as a spiritual home, Canyon Sam made a miracle of a journey. Now in Sky Train she guides the reader on a life-changing adventure back to Tibet after more than twenty years and an epoch of cataclysmic change to produce a miracle of a book."
-Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior

"A book that is sure to illuminate a Tibet so many of us have been longing to know."
-Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple

"Through the experiences of older Tibetan women, the author offers a captivating journey spanning half a century and several countries. Sky Train conveys women's lessons of community-building, generosity, faith, and determination. A beautiful, moving, riveting book."
-Valerie Matsumoto, UCLA

"This book about the Dharma of connection, of companioning, of compassion, has strengthened my own devotion."
-Sylvia Boorstein, author of Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life

"It is Canyon Sam's love for Tibet-its culture and its people-that makes this book so special. An important work . . . poignant and inspiring."
-Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

1. Sky Train
2. Morning on the Changtang
3. Lhasa
4. Crossing the Himalayas
5. Dharamsala
About the Author

"...perhaps the most innovative book written on Tibet that I have come across.... Canyon Sam writes eloquently and lyrically about her experiences in Tibet...a tender, personal insight into the spirits of the Tibetans in the face of the near extinction of their culture."
-Turning Wheel

"This is a book that will make you weep."
-Japan Times

"As a woman talking to women, Sam uncovers a much more intimate Tibet, which survives stubbornly in a tattered land. The passage of time between the interviews gives their testimonies both richness and preciousness..captures the heart-rending complexities of Tibet and China and how close to home they can be."
-San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"In her remarkable book, writer and activist Sam examines the stories of varied Tibetan women- displaced aristocrats, impassioned freedom fighters, educators, and others- united in their desperation to reclaim their country. A third-generation Chinese-American, Sam also chronicles her own experiences in Tibet throughout the narrative, skillfully mimicking readers' slow discovery of the country in its many dimensions. Though complicated politically, Sam handles Tibet's dilemma with knowledge and grace, addressing the larger history of Tibet to reveal a beautiful, subtle culture that's as rich as it is foreign. At no time does Sam sugarcoat the effects of Chinese occupation on the people or the land, rendering human rights issues in terms of intensely personal experience. Visceral and deeply felt, this narrative deserves a read from anyone interested in human rights and the untold stories of oppressed women everywhere."
-Publishers Weekly