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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 21, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

INVADING TIBET by Mark Frutkin (Soho Press: $19.95; 215 pp.). The biggest problem with describing things ineffable is that they are just that, ineffable, or as Webster's has it, "incapable of being described in words." Canadian writer Mark Frutkin does his best in this novel to express the spiritual energy that seems to overcome many visitors to Tibet, but in the end he is left invoking familiar ideas often attributed to Eastern thought: Spiritual growth is achieved through surrender, the sacred world is as real as the physical, time is a false construct prompted by human limitations, and the like. "Invading Tibet" begins promisingly, with Frutkin's protagonist, Alex, leaving for the British Museum to determine exactly what happened to a relative, Candler, who as a journalist accompanied British troops during their 1904 invasion of Tibet. Alex gets caught up in Candler's journal, and when Frutkin shifts to Candler's point of view, the reader does as well. The closer the invaders get to Lhasa the more confused and reluctant they become, an idea captured by Candler's Virgil-like manservant, Sarge, when he says, "We are overwhelming you simply by giving in." Alex, of course, is similarly captured--as was Frutkin, one assumes, based on his dedicating the novel to "the People of Tibet"--but his contemporaneous story is banal when compared to Candler's. If "Invading Tibet" works only in patches, Frutkin should be applauded nonetheless for his ambition.

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