Tsering Yangzom Lama | We Measure the Earth with Our BodiesReviewed by: Jane Edwards
The Author: Tsering Yangzom Lama was born in Nepal. She has an MFA from Columbia University and has lived in Toronto, New York City and Vancouver. Her debut novel, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies was a New York Times Summer Reads Pick and a finalist for The 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize, as well as being long-listed for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and The Toronto Book Award.
The Book: What happens when people are pushed out of their homeland? Tsering Yangzom Lama describes this refugee experience in her first novel We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies. As told by Lhamo, a young Tibetan girl, the story opens in 1960, as the Chinese “Peoples Liberation Army”, or Gyami, continues its ruthless take-over of Tibet. Lhamo’s family and much of their community flee the violence and trek through the mountains to a safer land, leaving behind their country and the comfort of home. The story is told through the eyes of daughters, sisters and lovers to give several voices relaying the experiences of refugees living far from home in Nepal, India, and Toronto.
Displacement to a foreign land so often becomes permanent, leading to the hardships of refugee life: loss of opportunity, poverty, and unfulfilled dreams of the return to one’s homeland. In spite of the hardships, within this novel there is love throughout: love of community, love of parents, love of sisters and the unfulfilled love of lovers.
There is a thread through the story of the spiritual and mystical. The land holds sacred places, there are those who have the ability to hear the gods and there is the Nameless Saint or Ku, an ancient relic which appears in times of need, giving solace and taking on pain. In addition, Tsering’s gorgeous descriptions of the mountains, the rivers, and the lands travelled enhance the feeling of the sacred to these places.
As a Canadian living a comfortable life in my country of birth, this novel is a strong and emotional lesson of the hardships and losses of those who are forced from their homeland. We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a beautifully written story of a community and family enduring life as refugees while linked by love. There are moments within this book where the emotions of loss and love are so strong that is they are overwhelming. One cannot help but connect with and feel the emotions of the characters. I look forward to the pleasure of meeting and hearing Tsering at the 2023 Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival in July.