Das siebte Jahr.Von Tibet nach Indien.
(The Seventh Year: From Tibet to India)
Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, August 2006, 304 pp
In Tibet blind people are generally shunned as they are considered to be atoning for sins they committed in their past life or to be possessed by demons. They are often victims of verbal and physical abuse at home and in the streets. This was the situation that prompted Sabriye Tenberken, brought up in Germany and blind since the age of twelve, to travel to Lhasa and, with her friend and partner Paul, set up 'Braille Without Borders', an organisation designed to counter prejudice and give blind children education and a proper and much-needed self-confidence.
Her move was chronicled in an earlier book, Mein Weg führt nach Tibet (Arcade Publishing, New York). Das Siebte Jahr deals with her experiences in Tibet seven years later. Its climax is reached when the American mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the top of Mount Everest, offers to help by organising an expedition to Lhakpa Ri, a 7,200-metre summit in the same range, with six of Sabriye's pupils. The histories of these young volunteers make fascinating reading. One of them was nineteen-year-old Kyila, who went blind at the age of nine and was left to fend for herself and two blind brothers. Another was Tashi, a young boy who, after years at the school, admits that he is not Tibetan at all but Chinese. His father forced him to beg for money and sold him to a stranger. He escaped and was found by Sabriye and Paul wandering in the street.
The expedition starts, complete with film crew, and Erik and his team take Sabriye, Paul and the youngsters up to the summit. From the outset, however, there has been a fundamental conflict of interest, the professional mountaineers keen to notch up another record, Sabriye wanting a less achievement-orientated expedition. At the end of the book she and Paul leave the school in the enthusiastic hands of its pupils and move to India to set up a new one.
Aside from the testimony to courage that it provides, it is the very simplicity of the telling and the unforced modesty of its author that constitute the strength of this book. The result is truly inspirational.