As I was performing my daily ritual of re-arranging my chaotic library, I came across an astonishing book.
The Third Eye, by Lobsang Rampa, is a model for evocative writing. But it is nothing less than a forgery, written under an exotic-sounding pen name designed to obscure the true identity of the author.
I had been intending for some time to offer it up for discussion and debate as a model of the so-called ‘fabricated books’ promoted by Borges and before him, Fernando Pessoa.
This book, which I consider to bethe largest fully-fledged forgery operation, overcame all the obstacles in its path and caveats about to achieve the status of a cultural event. It became hugely popular and was printed in dozens of editions and many languages.
My story with it began nearly 15 years ago when I was touring the Cairo Book Fair, looking for the unusual publishing houses, the ones publishing books you cannot find outside Cairo at all and only found within the city with difficulty.
Among them, I discovered Dar Sindbad for Publishing and Media, which later trimmed its name to Sinbad for Publishing and Media. Its books did not attract my eye straight away, but I found a one of their books translated by the Palestinian novelist and translator Ahmed Omar Shaheen, who lived and died in Egypt, and who passed away, coincidentally, in the same year his translation was published, 2001.
Because I respect Shaheen's selections for translation, I expected that I made a good find. I was right, not least since the publisher or translator wrote on the back cover of the book: “T. Lobsang Rampa was preordained to be a Tibetan priest, a sign from the stars that could not be ignored”.
This book was his autobiography, which he wrote in English after he left Tibet and was unable to return there due to the Chinese invasion of his country.
The book aroused a lot of interest and astonished readers who devoured it, taking it into over thirty editions. The translation I found was the twenty-sixth edition, published in 1992.