Book Review: Buttertea at Sunrise

Buttertea at Sunrise: A Year in the Bhutan Himalaya
by: Britta Das

     I’m digging this one. One woman’s memoirs from a year spent volunteering as a physiotherapist in a remote mountain village in Eastern Bhutan. A travel memoir as well as an almost educational look into The Kingdom of Bhutan.

     For many, this book is a two-fold type of read. On one hand it encompasses the day-to-day trials and tribulations of Britta, as well as an outsiders look into the day-to-day experiences that one goes through in such a different culture. Britta does a great job weaving these experiences through and into a tale not just about herself and her work, but also of Bhutanese life itself. The book is almost one of those “nothing really happens” books, but written very well and set in the high Himalaya of a mysterious country that very little is known about, where that nothing really happens turns into a very personal memoir of a fascinating experience. Britta brings characters to life, her job into perspective, and creates a detailed picture of the town and district, Mongar, in which she works. She brings her patients vividly to life, transferring emotion from paper to reader with utmost ease. She describes the state of the healthcare system, or lack thereof, in the remote area in which she is working. She learns the religion, she tries to understand the culture. She battles fleas, shops in the bazaar, visits temples, dzongs and stupas. Britta loses workers, fights with patients and their families, falls in love, hikes the mountains and helps the people the best she can.

     On the other hand, the book reveals a lot of information on Bhutan itself, which, let’s face it, is tough to come by even in this day and age. Britta reveals a little bit at a time throughout the book. The people, culture, recent history, problems and religion of Bhutan are all revealed and absorbed into Brittas experience’s without a misstep, hiccup or pause. This is where Britta excels in my opinion. Although nothing extremely exciting happens, the book is written so well, and in such a fascinating country that so little is written about, that it keeps the reader wanting to go further into her experience and deeper into understanding Bhutan and it’s people and how they live.

     A great example of the ability of written word to create a visual picture in the mind or imagination is also present in the book. Maybe the best example I have ever seen. If you are going to read the book, and I probably shouldn’t even say it because it will probably cause the opposite effect, but don’t look at the picture on page 150. Read the book and especially the chapter and text leading up to it, and turn the page to see if the mental picture you have is at all correct . Doing this I was quite surprised at the picture. Not that the picture is good or bad, but just surprising relative to the text and how I visualized the particular subject that is pictured …I’ll let you decide, but if you do read it, let me know your thoughts.

     It’s the little things that bring the book together and make it much more as a whole than the sum of its parts. Small everyday experiences turned into a fascinating year spent struggling against the odds in a far off land. Britta does a great job in creating a visualization of her experience, as well as Bhutan itself. The book may not be for everyone, but if you’re at all interested in Bhutan, I would recommend it. There is also a website for the book, and Britta, containing some great images, more information on Britta, a sample chapter from the book and more information on the religion and culture of Bhutan as well as maps and links:

Bottom Line:
…for any reader interested in Bhutan, especially relative to the books on the subject that are out there right now: Recommended to Highly Recommended

…for those interested in travel memoirs or the Himalaya region, but not particular to Bhutan itself: Recommended, with the knowledge that there are a lot of choices out there.

     Help me keep traveling, reviewing, and taking pictures. If you want to buy this book, or any other book through Amazon, than click and buy through the photo above. Thank you!!! John


3 comments on “Book Review: Buttertea at Sunrise

  1. have you read ‘to a mountain in tibet’ by colin thurbron? i’m not usually into his particular brand of travel writing, but man am i blown away by that book!

  2. elbodans …no, I haven’t read it, but I know what book your talking about. Colin Thrubron is not my kind of travel writing either. I started one of his books and stopped about halfway through …I couldn’t take it. When I saw To a Mountain in Tibet, I so wanted to read it, until I saw who wrote it.
    It’s all opinion, but I get the sense that he’s a writer by profession, writing to make money, not to tell a story. Too “fluffy” for me.
    I likers writers who write because they think they have a story to tell, who aren’t writers by profession.
    Thanks for the comment,

  3. I agree with John! Britta wrote the book, because she really wanted to share her feelings while working in Eastern Bhutan. The book is a great piece of writing.

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