Doesn't Travel Well

  • Share
  • Read Later

In writing about places that captivate, authors risk exoticizing locations to the extent that they contract a serious disease: Lonely Planetitis. As "an avid traveler, often to remote places," Elsie Sze, raised in Hong Kong and resident in Toronto, would appear susceptible to a bout.

Her enthusiasm for travel infects The Heart of the Buddha, a novel of mysticism, love, sisterly devotion and adventure located amid the clichéd "snow-covered peaks" and "lush green ... valleys" of the Himalayas. But the setting almost overwhelms the story, which is a pity. Behind the travel-guide speak is a breathless tale of a disappearance, a manhunt and the return of religious treasure.

Idealistic, romantic Marian leaves her job in Toronto and heads to the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, there to do good works reorganizing a public library. Two twists of a prayer wheel later and she's in thrall to an athletic monk on a mission (cue the appearance of the People's Liberation Army as pantomime villains). He inadvertently endangers their lives as he attempts to smuggle a collection of sacred Buddhist texts out of Tibet.

When Marian vanishes, twin sister Ruth dashes from Canada to find her, and on a trail of treachery finds an unlikely love of her own — her "tour" guide. The plot thickens and quickens, the tension escalates. If only the cheese momos, guesthouses and colorful native flora would migrate back to the travel section.