The BookBrowse Review

Published September 16, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Blue Sky Kingdom
An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya
by Bruce Kirkby
6 Oct 2020
352 pages
Publisher: Pegasus Books
ISBN-13: 9781643135687
Genre: Travel & Adventure
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A warm and unforgettable portrait of a family letting go of the known world to encounter an unfamiliar one filled with rich possibilities and new understandings.

Bruce Kirkby had fallen into a pattern of looking mindlessly at his phone for hours, flipping between emails and social media, ignoring his children and wife and everything alive in his world, when a thought struck him. This wasn't living; this wasn't him. This moment of clarity started a chain reaction which ended with a grand plan: he was going to take his wife and two young sons, jump on a freighter and head for the Himalaya.

In Blue Sky Kingdom, we follow Bruce and his family's remarkable three months journey, where they would end up living amongst the Lamas of Zanskar Valley, a forgotten appendage of the ancient Tibetan empire, and one of the last places on earth where Himalayan Buddhism is still practiced freely in its original setting.

Richly evocative, Blue Sky Kingdom explores the themes of modern distraction and the loss of ancient wisdom coupled with Bruce coming to terms with his elder son's diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum. Despite the natural wonders all around them at times, Bruce's experience will strike a chord with any parent—from rushing to catch a train with the whole family to the wonderment and beauty that comes with experience the world anew with your children.

"Kirkby has an eye for detail, imbuing even the most mundane tasks with meaning. Emotional reflections on the journey, Bodi's 'leaps in development,' and Kirkby's 'newfound ability to... actually meet Bodi where he is,' are juxtaposed with keen observations on the modern world encroaching on Zanskar. It's poignant and gently provocative, much like a prayer flag blowing in the wind." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A breathtaking journey, both geographical and internal, Kirkby's blending of travelog of an already fascinatingly remote locale and personal family experience is unique and luminous. Will appeal to a wide range of readers." - Library Journal (starred review)

"As it explores an ancient—and dying—Tibetan Buddhist culture, this delightful book also tells a timely, heartwarming story of a family's search for peace away from the din of modern culture. Soul-refreshing reading for armchair travelers and spiritual questers alike." - Kirkus Reviews

"I was blown away by the audaciousness of this epic family voyage, desperately wishing I was there with them. Kirkby's writing offers a vivid exploration of culture, geography and relationships, but also, more urgently, of how we choose to live - and whether that's possible to change." - Alex Hutchinson, author of Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

"Bruce Kirkby's chronicle of living in a remote Buddhist monastery with his family is by turns hilarious and enchanting. What a beautiful ode to impermanence, to the families we choose and the families we find and to the complicated wonders of a different, and fast-disappearing way of life. - Kate Harris, author of Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

"Family adventure doesn't begin to describe what transpires in these pages. Kirkby and his remarkable family have built a bridge between the Rockies and the Himalaya, and in so doing spanned the gap between autism and Buddhism. In addition to being a manifestation of deepest love and devotion, this book is a time-bending journey through a landscape and culture that filled me with envy and sorrow by turns, while showing me things I have never seen described in a lifetime of reading. We are lucky to have someone as brave, generous, and open as Bruce Kirkby abroad in the world." - John Vaillant, author of The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Kathy Fox
So much more than a travelogue
Get ready to be inspired and transported to a buried place in your heart as Canadian writer-adventurer, Bruce Kirkby takes you with him on his family’s quest to flee the constant noise and pressures of society and slow the pace in a Himalayan Buddhist temple.

Addicted to scrolling the vast Social Media wasteland and drained from their oldest son, Bodi’s, autism spectrum diagnosis and treatment, Bruce and his wife, Christine Pitkanen, revive their sidelined “fantasy” with their two children: making the journey to 1000 year-old Karsha Gompa in Zanskar, India. The 3-month journey involved travelling by container ship, train, canoe, and miles of high-altitude trekking.
The family stayed with and were adopted by Lama Wangyal and bestowed with Tibetan names, an honor, but also necessary for communication. Kirkby and his wife became English teachers to the young monks living at the monastery as the kids disconnected from the tether of technology and connected with life in a natural way. Our hearts were lifted following along as Bodi was able to use meditation to control the anxiety caused by noise, people and changing routines
I was completely fascinated reading how Tibetan Buddhism is still practiced in its undiluted form, and so much about the Dalai Lama, India, Chinese territorial claims over Tibet and given many examples of prejudice against Tibetans in India
At the beginning, I wonder how the family will fare, but 6 months later as they return to Canada -less beholden to technology and much closer to one another-I find I've been uplifted by the tale.
Closing the final page, I realize that we, too, can find some peace if we distance ourselves from the constant clatter of our modern world and aim for a higher awareness. And that “permanently fractured awareness” can be restored.
Deep gratitude to Book Club Cookbook, Galley Match, Bruce Kirkby and Pegasus Books for the ARC

Bruce Kirkby is a Canadian writer, photographer and adventurer whose journeys span 80 countries and include traversing Iceland by foot, Mongolia by horseback, Arabia by camel and the Blue Nile Gorge by raft. Along the way he's been shot at in Borneo, taken hostage in Ethiopia, and imprisoned by Myanmar's army. His writing has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Outside Magazine. He is listed among 'the nation's top modern day explorers' by Canadian Geographic.

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