4 out of 4 stars
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Not having an artistic bone in my body - seriously; even my stick figures look deformed - I've always admired people who have the talent for drawing. Now, thanks to Lobsang Gyatso's beyond stunning illustrations, I have a new kind of art to admire. Diana Lynne Nadeau's book, Pola's Flower, introduces the reader to the painting of Buddhist scrolls known as thangkas (always written in italics). In this story, Metog-ma learns the ancient art from her grandfather, Pola, during the time before Tibet is taken over by the government. The story doesn't really have a conflict or problem to solve, it's more of a lovely look at Metog-ma's life and relationship with Pola before the take-over.
I'm not usually a fan of books that have family relationships as the basis for their story, but I was taken away with this memoir-like tale. It took me back to the summer days that I spent following MY grandfather, learning about working a farm, which I guess is a different kind of art. I liked both Metog-ma and Pola and teared up several times during the reading. The author truly did a stupendous job bringing out the love these characters have for each other, and I was sobbing by the end of the short book.
Since this book is centered around thangkas and one particular project that Pola is working on, the book is full of thangka-like illustrations, most of them taking up the full page. As noted above, the artwork is simply stunning, and I often found myself forgetting to read. When I finished the tale, I went back and just pored over the pictures, I was so overwhelmed. I also did a Google search on thangkas because I wanted to know more about this kind of art. I always think it's wonderful when a book teaches me something, so that was a definite plus. At one point, Metog-ma noted that Pola taught her that "thangkas hold messages for those who meditate on them." The end of the tale showed Metog-ma realizing one of the messages, and it tugged at my heartstrings because it was so bittersweet. According to Amazon, this book is geared towards youngsters between the ages of 9-12. I think they will also enjoy looking at the detailed pictures, and I hope that they too are persuaded to do further research and possibly see messages in the lovely artwork.
Another thing that drew me to this book was the thought of getting to explore another world. The pictures really took me there, so much so that I actually shivered while reading the pages with winter scenes. There was also the occasional mention of traditional foods with a brief description. For instance, at one point, Metog-ma and her grandfather ate chhurpi (italicized in the book), "cheese made from the milk of a female yak"; even though I'm not so sure that I want anything to do with yak milk, I do love cheese, so my mouth watered. I was slightly disappointed that Tibet and its culture weren't explored more, but I also realized that this book was more about Metog-ma and Pola's relationship and thangka's place in it than discussing Tibetan ways. Still, I'm hopeful that there will be more books that further explore this culture. With that being said, there was a lovely Foreword written by Tulku Jigme Rinpoche, the Founder and Director of Palmo Center for Peace and Education. In this section, Tulku gave a brief overview of Tibet's commitment to "developing the best kind of human beings... awake and engaged, wise and compassionate", i.e. "spiritual education". I was deeply moved by Tulku's words and am thankful that they were included. It was also nice to read a little blurb about the Khyentse Foundation, a "nonprofit organization founded in 2001 by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche to support all traditions of Buddhist study and practice. The foundation has given grants to Buddhist institutions and individuals in more than 35 countries around the world."
This book was written in the first-person point-of-view, and I loved Metog-ma's "voice". I truly felt as if I was listening to her tell me about this time of her life. The text was also written in an interesting font and blended well with the pictures. I will note that not all of the pages had page numbers, so I think the author should either remove the numbers entirely or make sure that all pages have them. I noted a handful of grammatical errors as well, but they didn't distract from my reading. Still, since this book is geared towards younger people, I think the author should have the book edited one more time to get rid of the few mishaps, resulting in a fully polished piece of literature.
I am thrilled to give Pola's Flower a rating of 4 out of 4 stars, and I highly recommend this tome to readers of all ages who enjoy artwork and exploring other lands. I also think people who are interested in other cultures, Tibetan in particular, would enjoy it. Finally, readers who like reading about family relationships may like this book as well.
Lastly, dear reader, be thankful that we don't have to illustrate our reviews; I would not have done nearly as good a job as Lobsang!
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