Illustrator Peter Sis on "Tibet - Through the Red Box"& Eskimo Jan Welzl

Peter Sis

Many Radio Prague listeners will already be familiar with the work of Czech-born illustrator Peter Sis, the author of acclaimed children's books that include "The Three Golden Keys" and "The Tree of Life". Last week, Peter Sis was in Prague, this time to launch the Czech edition of "Tibet - Through the Red Box" - based on his father's experiences in 1950s Tibet.

"He was a young filmmaker who went to China after the Chinese expressed an interest in having someone teach them documentary filmmaking. So, he went to China, telling my mother that he hoped he would be back in a few months. What they didn't know was that China was building a road to Tibet, and they wanted to document the whole operation. It was the most amazing operation, at that time 50 years ago the highest road in the world, and there were thousands and thousands of Chinese soldiers building this.

My father stayed nineteen months and he missed two Christmases, [which for me as a four year-old boy was a little traumatic]. In fact, when he came back I painted the whole house with my pictures, including the chairs and light switches. A psychoanalyst from New York later told me that I probably did it so my father would love it so much that he wouldn't go away again. But, it didn't work because he was leaving constantly, making films all over the world. The inspiration for this book was my father's diary, which he kept in Tibet. When I was a child my father would tell me many stories of magic and Buddhism, which I believed."

Jan Velinger, who has met with illustrator Peter Sis now a couple times, joins us in the studio now to tell us more about "Tibet - Through the Red Box".

"Many critics have called this book one of Sis' most personal because it does describe his relationship with his father, how he viewed his father's adventures as a child. If you're the type of person who reads reviews at you might be interested that one reviewer has written Sis uses his fathers tales to create "...a dream land... where weird and wonderful things happen", and, as that reviewer wrote, "it is impossible not to love Tibet". As far as Sis' work is concerned this title is one of his most enchanting, with many gorgeous illustrations of Tibet relying on many tiny details typical of artist's style. Certainly, "Through the Red Box" was - until now - conspicuously absent on the Czech market, and publishers Labyrint, who came out with Sis' book about Charles Darwin last year, are confident this one too will find its audience."

What about other upcoming projects?

"It should please Czech fans that Labyrint Publishers have announced they would like to reissue an extended version of Sis' book "A Small, Tall Tale from the Far, Far North" about the Czech Arctic adventurer Jan Welzl. That book only came out here once before and very quickly sold out. For years, even in thrift stores, it has been impossible to find old copies. So that's something to look forward to. Here Peter Sis describes actually following in Welzl's footsteps: he went up to the Yukon, where Welzl spent the last part of his life.

"I was on the book tour and we went with my brother, a filmmaker, and we went to Fairbanks, Alaska, and went to Dawson to find his grave, because we couldn't really go to the North Pole or New Siberia where he lived! Dawson City was the logical choice!

We went to a local bar called the 'Snake Pit' and there were lots of people who claimed to remember Eskimo Welzl. So I started to buy drinks for them and then my brother pointed out that if these guys were like thirty... and Welzl died in 1948... hmmm. I said 'You're right!' But, these people, they all had stories because I was buying them drinks. But, they knew nothing {laughs}. Dawson is famous for Jack London, who lived there, and Robert Service, the gold-rush poet; but about every 50th person who comes to visit comes 'looking for' Jan Welzl."