Beyond The Sky And The Earth

A Journey Into Bhutan

Publisher: Doubleday Canada
In the tradition of Iron and Silk and Touch the Dragon, Jamie Zeppa’s memoir of her years in Bhutan is the story of a young woman’s self-discovery in a foreign land. It is also the exciting début of a new voice in travel writing.

When she left for the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in 1988, Zeppa was committing herself to two years of teaching and a daunting new experience. A week on a Caribbean beach had been her only previous trip outside Canada; Bhutan was on the other side of the world, one of the most isolated countries in the world known as the last Shangri-La, where little had changed in centuries and visits by foreigners were restricted. Clinging to her bags full of chocolate, hair conditioner and Immodium, she began the biggest challenge of her life, with no idea she would fall in love with the country and with a Bhutanese man, end up spending nine years in Bhutan, and begin a literary career with her account of this transformative journey.

At her first posting in a remote village of eastern Bhutan, she is plunged into an overwhelmingly different culture with squalid Third World conditions and an impossible language. Her house has rats and fleas and she refuses to eat the local food, fearing the rampant deadly infections her overly protective grandfather warned her about. Gradually, however, her fear vanishes. She adjusts, begins to laugh, and is captivated by the pristine mountain scenery and the kind students in her grade 2 class. She also begins to discover for herself the spiritual serenity of Buddhism.

A transfer to the government college of Sherubtse, where the housing conditions are comparatively luxurious and the students closer to her own age, gives her a deeper awareness of Bhutan’s challenges: the lack of personal privacy, the pressure to conform, and the political tensions. However, her connection to Bhutan intensifies when she falls in love with a student, Tshewang, and finds herself pregnant. After a brief sojourn in Canada to give birth to her son, Pema Dorji, she marries Tshewang and makes Bhutan her home for another four years.

Zeppa’s personal essay about her culture shock on arriving in Bhutan won the 1996 CBC/Saturday Night literary competition and appeared in the magazine. She flew home to accept the prize, where people encouraged her to pursue her writing. Her letters from Bhutan also featured on CBC’s Morningside. The book that grew out of this has been published in Canada and the United States to ecstatic reviews, followed by British, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish editions.

Although cultural differences finally separated Jamie and Tshewang in 1997 while she was writing the book and she returned to Canada, she will always feel at home in Bhutan. Zeppa shares her compelling insights into this land and culture, but Beyond the Sky and the Earth is more than a travel book. With rich, spellbinding prose and bright humour, it describes a personal journey in which Zeppa acquires a deeper understanding of what it means to leave one’s home behind, and undergoes a spiritual transformation.

READ AN EXCERPT

The doors of the Paro airport are thrown open to the winds. The little building and its single stripe of tarmac are set in the middle of dun-colored fields dotted with mounds of manure. The fields are carved into undulating terraces edged with sun-bleached grass; intricate footpaths lead to large houses, white with dark...
Read More

PRAISE FOR

"An exotic feast of adventure, wry observation and moving romance. A lovely book."—Peter Gzowski

Beyond the Sky and the Earth is an exotic and romantic story, an exhilarating testament to the transformative power of travel if one’s mind and heart are open to it.”—Toronto Star

“…compelling… With empathy, intelligence and self-mocking wit, Zeppa chronicles her passage from sheltered First World child to clearer-eyed citizen of a wider world.”—The Globe and Mail

“Zeppa’s depictions of life … teem with exquisite physical details that reflect her growing interest in Buddhist mindfulness: we taste the impossible sweetness of the withered apples her students bring her, see the thousand shades of green (“lime, olive, pea, apple, grass, pine, moss, malachite, emerald”) that monsoon rains paint her valley, feel the pulsing touch of a student’s hand on her forearm.”—Quill & Quire

“Her book suggests…that there are still a few places left in the world so strange and wondrous that a journey there has the power to transform the traveler.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Zeppa's description of the terrain is breathtaking; her description of adaptation, growth, and transformation is both comforting and inspirational. This is a story as much about personal triumph as about travel, and about people as well as place.”—Booklist

“…her enthusiasm for Bhutan and its people is infectious and her descriptions of her encounters with Bhutanese culture are often funny and always enlightening…”—Kirkus

“Her tale is part love story, part history lesson and part Buddhism 101....Zeppa writes romantically without romanticizing, and her fascinating story is something you'll marvel at the first time and want to go back to again and again.”—Mademoiselle

“What makes Beyond the Sky and the Earth so attractive is pretty straightforward: Zeppa is a wonderful writer and storyteller and she has a great tale to tell… Zeppa's sense of adventure and her curiosity about almost everything make Beyond the Sky and the Earth an unusually compelling memoir. We want more, please.”--Toronto Sun

“A fascinating account of a Westerner's gradual acclimation to this secluded Buddhist kingdom”—Time Out