Soul of the Fire by Eliot Pattison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those who have not read 'The Skull Mantra', the first in the series, you really ought to do so. Author Pattison is a fine writer with a lucid style and a way of making difficult thoughts and ideas understandable. Whilst every novel stands alone, and can be read without having read the others in the series, a reader will miss the full impact of what the author is asking us to think about and consider.
Each book is not just a mystery set in a foreign country, readers are asked to think about political systems, about the use of violence, about deliberate destruction of a culture and way of life, about torture and gulags, and about human kindness. No, there are no rants, the complex plots speak for themselves. We're talking about Tibet, the Chinese invasion and the terrible things which are still done to Tibetans. Forcible removal to China as slave labour, children forcibly taken to special boarding schools, renamed, indoctrinated, the language forbidden, brutal policing. It reads like Hitler's Germany. However the books are not intended as a polemic, each has a good story to tell against the background of Chinese brutality and one big question is always asked: 'What is the purpose of our life, what is each person's life for and about?
In Soul of Fire Shan is forced by Public Security, to leave his post in the little village and become a member of a special international commission investigating those terrible Tibetan suicides by immolation, because the Tibetan member has suddenly died. His old friend Lokesh is dragged along too but put into gaol. Of course, the Tibetan was murdered and then a monk sets himself on fire in front of the commissioners and Shan realises that this is another whitewash attempt by the Chinese government to fool the international community. But the Public Security officer running the Commission, Major Ren, has Lokesh, who is an old and frail Tibetan, beaten and tortured, forcing Shan to toe the line and be Beijing's mouthpiece. Shan has to find the murderers, protect Lokesh and reveal a truth which could help all Tibetans.
The plot is tense, tight and nicely twisty. The characters are 3D and complex. Shan is Chinese himself which does help balance the nastiness of many of the Chinese officials. If Shan can treat Tibetans well perhaps other Chinese can?
I learn so much reading this series and Soul of Fire is no exception. It's a great book in a great series, and ought to be on every reader's to read list.
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