TIBET, by Jugoslovenska Revija, Belgrade and the Shanghai People's Art Publishing House; written by Ngapo Ngawang Jigmei and others; preface by Harrison Salisbury; designed by Massimo Vignelli (McGraw-Hill, $50). One can almost smell the moist mountain grass in this lavish, absorbing book about a land whose aura will always seem mysterious to the people beyond its borders. From the elaborately designed temples to the simple butter churns (the national beverage is hot buttered tea), Tibet is vivified in these pages. Seven eminent Tibetans contribute the text, treating such topics as Tibetan Buddhism, the family and the ethnic minorities within the country. A former lama, now a scholar in China, the man who writes the chapter on "Palaces, Monasteries and their Art" ends his essay with "I send my greetings to the reader and my thanks for his attention," making it seem as if the book had indeed transported one to hear his voice. All of the color reproduction is beautiful, without a single descent into postcard prettiness, and the result is a multi- dimensional introduction to Tibetan ways.
ASIA: Traditions and Treasures, by Walter A. Fairservis Jr; photographs by Lee Boltin; captions by Douglas J. Preston (Abrams, $50). The scope of this magnificent book is mind-boggling, for the author, an American anthropologist, attempts to survey all of Asian culture, history and society, from the near to the far East. For non-scholars, he most certainly suceeds, whether he's discussing the conquests of Alexander the Great, the great Hindu epics or the subject of women in Japan. The Hall of Asian Peoples in New York's American Museum of Natural History has provided most of the "treasures" shown while the "traditions" can be seen in both period and modern photos. Everything bespeaks quality; no guided tour could be more first- class, and yearnings for the East can be temporarily satisfied by staying at home and browsing in this volume, avoiding complicated itinerary decisions.
BALI: Behind the Mask, by Ana Daniel; foreword by R. Buckminster Fuller (Knopf, $30). Ana Daniel is an American woman, a student of mime and cinema, who first went to Bali in 1973 to photograph their famed dancers. However, meeting a charismatic teacher of the traditional dance forms made her decide to become a student of Balinese dance herself. She says of her fascinating book that it is not meant to be "an analysis of Balinese dance theatre but is rather the record of a participant." Through her careful description of her progress studying under Kakul, the reader begins to understand the strain necessary for a Westerner to approach even for an instant the Balinese world-view which informs their special art. "Each gesture calculated but effortless" is what the master tells Daniel, and she knows that "underlying all artistic form in Bali is an essential connection with the spiritual realm." The many photographs, both in black-and white and color, catch the Balinese dancers frozen into those positions which convey so much to their knowing audiences.
RAJASTHAN: India's Enchanted Land, introduction and 80 color photographs by Raghubir Singh; foreword by Satyajit Ray (Thames and Hudson, $27.50). Rajasthan, once known as Rajputana, is tucked into India's northwest corner; Delhi lies off its eastern edge and inside its borders are such cities as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar. The author, a native Rajput living in the West, grew homesick in the mid-'70s and returned there to capture the people and dwellings, the fairs and shops and temples of his memory on film. The result is a contained book, closely focused on the relationship between animate and inanimate things: women dance in swirling skirts in a harvest festival; a man all in white plunges through a fiery hoop; a camel ploughs a sandy field while a peacock strolls by; a village well is at the center of activity, looking like a biblical still life. In almost every picture something is happening that is part of the texture of local life. Nothing is special, but to our eye eveything is. Singh's affection for his homeland, a place most of us have never heard of, conveys itself through his painterly manner. Light, shadows and color speak to our senses other than sight and make us hear and smell, as well.
LADAKH: Between Earth and Sky, text by Siddiq Wahid; photographs by Kenneth R. Storm Jr. (Norton, $24.95). Another land that most readers will be unfamiliar with is Ladakh, which lies deep in the Himalayas, bordering Kashmir, Sinkiang and Tibet. Only open to tourists since 1974--before World War II hunters and mountaineers could receive special permission to enter, after the war entry became nearly impossible--Ladakh is a country whose economy is now dependent upon foreign visitors. The landscape is both barbaric and beautiful, and the people are at one with their surroundings. In the travelogue- type photographs their brightly colored garments punctuate the grays and dirty whites of the mountainous environment. Wahid, a native of Ladakhi, insists, however, that to call his country "remote" is only relative to whether or not one is viewing it from Europe or the Americas. An interesting point but an academic one: it doesn't stop this book from being a tantalizing introduction to a far-off, little known place.
MIRROR OF THE ORIENT, by Roland and Sabrina Michaud; foreword by Najm ud- Din Bammat (New York Graphic Society, $39.95). The Michauds have roamed Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and central Asia photographing people, vistas and animals, and they have achieved a high level of visual poetry which reveals their reverence for the East. In a most unusual book--the introduction to which explains dualism, symmetry and the theme of mirrors in Islamic culture--they have paired their images with museum miniatures depicting the identical subject. Thus, we see how little things have changed over the centuries: falconers, huntsmen, shepherds, horse-breakers, camel-drovers, weavers, boatmen, bear- tamers, troubadours, wrestlers, whether in the 15th century or the 20th, all allow themselves to be captured by artists for all time. Each time one leafs through this book there are new revelations about the continuum of humankind, and more often than not the modern photographs are every bit as exquisite as their matching but antique paintings.