Title of Novel:
The Green Eyed Lama
Authors: Oyungerel Tsedevdamba and Jeffrey L. Falt
Genre: Historical Fiction (based on a true story)
Award: Best Book of 2008, 2009, 2010 an Internom’s Grand Book Award, Mongolia.
The year is 1938. The newly-installed Communist Government of Mongolia, under orders from Moscow, launches a nation-wide purge. Before it’s over, nearly tenth of the country’s population is murdered.
Sendmaa, a young herdswoman, falls in love with Baasan, a talented and handsome lama. Baasan resovles to leave the priesthood and marry Sendmaa, but her scheming neighbor, persuades Baasan’s brother, Bold, to “ask a bride” first. Their love triangle is engulfed by tragedy when Choibalsan, Mongolia’s Stalin, moves to crush the Buddhist faith.
Baasan is arrested. Sendmaa, Bold and the other northern herders are branded counter-revolutionists; their animals confiscated.
As the country teeters toward war, Baasan is sentenced to death as a class enemy. But an improbable ally, a lama turned “KGB” agent, intervenes in a way that reaches all the way to Franklin Roosevelt. Still, Baasan must summon every bit of his talent and ingenuity if he’s to survive the gulag, reunite with Sendmaa, and help save the Buddhist faith.
Chronicle of the Green Eyed Lama:
1996- The inspiration to write this book was born in Ulaanbaatar’s Sukhbaatar Square when co-author Oyungerel participated in a demonstration which the Mongolian democratic parliament organized to apologize to the victims and families of political repression. Current President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, announced a State Apology at that event.
1997- The character on whom Sendmaa, the heroine of the book, is based was extensively interviewed by Oyungerel. She also went on local radio saying, “I waited for 60 years to learn what happened.” Her interview inspired Oyungerel to continue her laborious research to uncover hidden stories about green eyed Baasan lama and the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.
2004- By mid 2004, only 36 pages of the story had been written. Co-author Jeffrey Falt joined the writing at this point.
2005- The co-authors took the first draft of nearly 800 pages of story to the Maui Writer’s Conference. The story was critiqued by professionals by its nineteenth century writing style. The authors decided to disregard the first version and began to write it anew.
2007- The co-authors completed writing the new version of the Green Eyed Lama in English Oyungerel then translated the book into Mongolian.
2008- On March 9, the Green Eyed Lama was first introduced to the market. The daughter and son of Baasan, the green eyed lama, were invited to the book-opening held in Chinggis Hotel where they gave touching speeches. Elbegdorj Tsakhia, currently President of Mongolia, also came and spoke for the event. Lamas chanted, singer Naran Surenjav sang a beautiful song. The co-authors also spoke. (see Oyungerel’s speech below) and lamas chanted prayers and blessed the book.
From March 15- to May 01, Oyungerel made a book tour of Huvsgul Province visiting all 25 soums (counties) and even a Tsaatan reindeer herder settlement on the taiga. (see amusing stories from this trip below)
2008 - December 12: Green Eyed Lama won the Best Book-2008 prize from the Internom’s Grand Book award ceremony. Internom is the largest bookstore of Mongolia and its ratings are based on sales results throughout the year. Oyungerel participated the event to receive the prize. But on the same day, co-author Jeffrey Falt was participating the NYC Pitch and Shop Conference where the manuscript was requested by two editors.
2009- Jeffrey Falt has been working on the final editing of the Green Eyed Lama’s English version (Shadow of the Red Star) and is researching agents to discuss representation.
Quotes about the Green Eyed Lama:
I hope that the world will see this book some day. Maybe then, the people will understand Mongolia’s pains and struggles, and the Mongolians will be better understood by the world community.
Elbegdorj Tsakhia, (now President of Mongolia), March 09, 2008
In several ways, Green Eyed Lama diverges from trends in Mongolian writing. Lamas were virtually always villains in the country’s literature before democratization in the 1990s and, Oyungerel noted, green eyes are historically discriminated against.
"In our novel," she said, "the lama is the protagonist and green eyes are beautiful."
William Kennedy, UB Post, January 15, 2009
Good and evil do battle in this book, according to Jeffrey Falt. But most importantly, his heroes tell their stories as he put their struggles down on paper. Now readers have a chance to know the history our parents didn’t have the right to tell us.
B.Bayar, Udriin Sonin, March 11, 2008
Oyungerel Tsedevdamba Speech on the Opening Ceremony of
The Green Eyed Lama
March 09, 2008. Chinggis hotel, Ulaanbaatar
I am too excited, I’m about to cry.
It took many years to prepare The Green Eyed Lama’s birth, and I am relieved that we are finally delivering it here.
Much time passed since I first dreamt of writing the stories of my ancestors, my grand-grandparents and their sons and daughters, and how they were purged. I couldn’t deliver the stories I carried in my soul for twelve years, alone. With Jeff’s assistance, and my co-author’s everyday involvement, this story became alive.
Jeff worked with me for many years, understanding our country, our people, and taking the sadness of our history close to his heart. He became one of us, he became a Mongol -- staying in gers, spending nights out in countryside, sharing our joy and pain, and by loving our culture and traditions like it was his own. Therefore, from this respectful stage, I want to thank you a thousand times to my co-author and dear husband, Jeff.
While writing The Green Eyed Lama, I realized that sometimes it takes only one word to move someone to undertake an important work. On September 10, 1996 , I attended a meeting to honor repressed people. At that meeting, on the Sukhbaatar Square, my boss, chairman of the State Rehabilitation Commission of that time, Mr. Elbegdorj Tsakhia, gave a memorable speech. He mentioned one message again just a few minutes ago at this gathering. It is that “Repressed people were fighters”. He also said that he was officially conveying the apology of the Mongolian government sought by its people.
This short message about apology gave me strength and courage to start digging into the hidden part of our history where my great-grand parents and their children’s repression stories could be found. If my mother had heard such a message, I believe she could have written an even more interesting book. She was that brilliant minded and educated a woman.
But, because my mother Doljin Chimid was an ideological department officer of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, she was burdened by the realities of her time. I grew up feeling how she lead a double life in order to show her official resume as truly communist. She didn’t have the right to mention in her biography that she had a medical lama grandfather, and gavj lama uncle. My mother’s party job didn’t allow her to even mention that her great-grandfather was a famously rich herdsman. Since my earliest day as far as I know, my mother’s communist biography contained only one sentence about her ancestors that they were poor herders.
Today, thanks to democracy, thanks to freedom, we are opening these stories of our ancestors -- enriched by literary imagination-- in front of all of you and the world.
The main protagonist in our novel, The Green Eyed Lama, would have been portrayed as a class enemy in our communist-era literature. But thank god, the dark times are over. We can now describe a person by his personal character, rather than by his class or political affiliation. The green eyed lama emerges from that darkness into our world revealing his personal character and his very human face.
From our book you will understand that our ancestors, branded as counter-revolutionists and punished by being themselves, were ordinary people just like us. Their joys and sorrows, dreams and loves are ours.
I am very pleased to mention that our book was a work of many people. We are deeply grateful to all who helped us. Most of all, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to my late grandmother Densmaa Davaa, who waited for and dreamt of seeing this book to her last day. The stories that she told me are at the heart of our book. Also, I would like to thank Dr. Renchin, who shared his extensive research on the Huvsgul Province mass graves of repressed people. And many thanks to all the historians and writers of Mongolian history, as well as those who shared their family stories with us. My special thanks to my late uncle Luvsandorj Chimid, and to uncle Denjin Rentsen for sharing their notebooks with family stories.
During our research in Erdenebulgan soum of Huvsgul province, many other families came forward with their family stories. Among them was Narantsetseg Baasan, who is sitting among us, and who gave us a great deal of information about Baasan lama. Some of the stories provided by the people of Erdenebulgan are included as they were told. Others were weaved into our main characters’ stories.
I would like to thank those who helped make our novel a real book. They were editor, writer and journalist Mr. B. Zolbayar, technical editor and journalist Mrs.Sh. Badamhand, editor and my sister Oyunchimeg Tsedevdamba, graphic designer and my brother Dorj Tsedevdamba and translation editor Mrs. Chinbat Emgen. Also, thank you very much Admon company, for printing our book in Mongolia.
Dear readers, I want you to put aside your reservations for a moment and try to read our book with love. If only our prominent writers, who possess real literary words and talents of beautiful writing, have been writing books like The Green Eyed Lama, my modest self, an economist by profession, wouldn’t be rushing to bring a novel to our bookshelves. But because such books are not coming out, and because so many still see lamas as counter-revolutionists, I dared to co-write this novel.
We boldly dream that our manuscript will be published some day in its original English. When that time comes, the story of an ordinary Mongolian man, like the green eyed Lama, will join the worldwide chorus of voices urging us to love and cherish liberty and human rights. And I am sure that The Green Eyed Lama will find its place in that chorus.
Please enjoy the Green Eyed Lama.
May the Eternal Blue Sky and the spirit of Huvsgul’s mountains and the Dayan Deerkh Deity bless you!
Facts and stories about The Green Eyed Lama and its readers
The book lists the names of 614 victims from Khuvsgul province who were sentenced to death or 10-years imprisonment on just two days on the same burial location where the main characters of The Green Eyed Lama were purged. During the book tour to Huvsgul province, the buyers of the book opened its last few pages first and searched the names of their own relatives. Often they found one. In Renchinlkhumbe soum, a reader found three family members killed on the same day.
Often the first buyers of the book were young people who grew up without knowing anything about Mongolia’s communist regime and its political purges. Young and old lamas volunteered to chant at every book event including Ulaanbaatar’s, Muren’s and Erdenebulgan’s and Tsetserleg soum’s where the greatest number of books were sold. The book tour events included singing, author’s speech, book selling and book signing. Often local people shared their own family stories and how they took the story of the Green Eyed Lama close to their hearts. The book banner of the Green Eyed Lama says, “The story, that our grandparents didn’t have the right to tell and didn’t have the right to know, comes alive”.
When our book-touring group of six people arrived at a log cabin on the shore of the Uilgan River, a man reading the Green Eyed Lama inside a Russian jeep. When we took his photo he wouldn’t look at us. We entered the house to meet the family. When asked, “Who is reading the book outside?” the hostess said, “He is our local driver who came to drop some visitors around here. He saw the book that we brought from our soum library with 3-day time limit, and he took the book asking to read it on our eyes. So he is sitting in his car for the second day.” Indeed, the local driver finished reading the book while we were hosted in the family house and the family was very happy to receive its own copy of the Green Eyed Lama.
Promoting The Green Eyed Lama in the countryside was one of the most pleasurable experiences. The team including co-author Oyungerel, two professional singers, one photographer, an assistant and a driver toured over 6.000 kilometers in 45 days stopping at 40 locations including this small taiga settlement with 11 families and 40 people. We hoped to sell a couple of books at this forest settlement, but we soon learnt that we under-estimated the taiga people’s desire to have their own copies of the Green Eyed Lama. We sold 11 copies -- equal in number to all the teepees -- at the end of our one-hour show in freezing coldness! In warmer locations, our promotion show would last for 4-5 hours and people would remain to chat and ask for autographs even after the show ended.
Introducing The Green Eyed Lama to Khuvsgul public as early as possible was important for two reasons. Firstly, the book was about victims from Khuvsgul, where one of the harshest repressions took place. The victims’ descendents deserved to know more about their ancestors. Secondly, co-author Oyungerel was planning to run in the 2008 Parliamentary elections. The book tour served for both name-recognition and fund raising for her political rally. Oyungerel raised a big part of her election campaign funds from the sales of the Green Eyed lama, but she lost the election by a narrow margin. On her way to promote the book, Oyungerel and her team struggled in spring rivers, sat in mud, and were lost in the darkness on more than one occassion, but many times they saw beautiful nature and wildlife, and sometimes amusing spring newborns like this baby-yak.
The Green Eyed Lama in the Mongolian media in 2008-2009.
- Book program of UBS television;
- Book program of SBN television;
- Two talk show programs of National Television;
- “Dreams come true” a reality-show of UBS television;
- Talk show of FM105 radio;
- Daily News (Udriin Sonin), one full page news article, one full page interview;
- UB Post, a full page news article;
- Newspaper Ardiin Erkh, news article.
- Various other short news articles in numerous newspapers and news websites.
Events devoted to the Green Eyed Lama
□ Readers’ competition was organized by Book Café, March 2009. Ulaanbaatar. Four teams participated to discuss the characters, history and the cultural information included in the book. Jeff and Oyungerel were hosted and spoke about the research and writing of The Green Eyed Lama.
□ Readers’ backpack trip organized by the Mongolian Youth Federation (MYF), July 2009. Young people who read the Green Eyed Lama was invited by the MYF to sign up for a backpack tour from Ulaanbaatar over Bogd Mountain to Manzushir monastery—one of the largest remains of the Stalinist purge of Buddhism, and one of sites described in the novel.
□ Some history teachers of Mongolian Universities listed the Green Eyed Lama into the mandatory reading for history classes beginning from Fall 2008.
□ In Ulaan-Uul, Khatgal nd Erdenbulgan soums of Khuvsgul province, some employers, including the governors’ offices allowed their employees to have 2-day holiday leave if she or he was home reading the Green Eyed Lama.
□ Lamas from Tsagaan-Uul soum monastery lead a chant with 300 locals for the Green Eyed Lama in May 2008. The Khamba lama gave a moving speech thanking democracy and religious tolerance for making possible the writing of books like the Green Eyed Lama.