Category Archives: Nepali American

Seasons of Flight by Manjushree Thapa

Nepal-born Manjushree Thapa, herself a peripatetic hybrid of East and West with an American education and Canadian ties, is one of a handful of Nepali authors successfully writing in English. This, her latest novel (and only her second in her almost two-decade writing history with seven titles thus far), is not yet published in the U.S., although thanks to our global economy, it’s readily available through various virtual outlets. While the book itself has not yet officially landed with a U.S. press, Flight – ironically – is essentially an immigration story, enhanced with resonating layers of political and socioeconomic history.

“Why were Americans so light of spirit?” Prema, a young woman from Nepal, asks herself again and again. Having survived her war-torn, unstable homeland where loved ones die and disappear, Prema’s adjustment to her new life in Los Angeles is a wholly different kind of challenge.

Trained in forestry – in things that might change with the seasons, but are ultimately rooted – Prema’s life in her native hill village is not enough to keep her grounded: her mother died in childbirth when Prema was 8, that younger sister who survived went missing years ago to join the rebel Maoists, her father is little more than a kind voice on a public telephone, her lover is as noncommittal as Prema herself. When she is granted a U.S. green card via lottery, she readily flees toward a chance for a “life in a richer land [that] was more – proper, solid.”

But in the multi-ethnic metropolis that is Los Angeles, Prema finds herself repeatedly trying to explain that she is not Indian, and she doesn’t speak Spanish because she is not Mexican/Italian/Spanish, that ‘Nepal’ is not the same as Nippon nor does it sound like ‘nipple’ and surely it has no relation to Naples or pasta. Untethered, Prema eschews relationships with fellow Nepali emigres, and cuts off contact with her waiting father and unattached lover. She moves in with total strangers, cares for a wealthy elderly widow most days, and finds herself alone most nights … until she meets Luis, who becomes her tenuous connection to a firmer, more grounded American life, at least for a while. But reinvention, even thousands of miles away, requires more than physical distance.

In a poignant twist, Thapa subtly compares the two sisters’ lives – eight years and countries apart. As spare as those passages are, their markedly diverging circumstances and experiences speak volumes, giving this not-so-simple immigration story keen insight into the cost of leaving, and the price for going back.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010 (India, United Kingdom)

2 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Nepali, Nepali American, South Asian, South Asian American

Buddha’s Orphans by Samrat Upadhyay

First off, Samrat Upadhyay is one of my favorite short story-tellers. His debut Arresting God in Kathmandu remains one of the most memorable collections I’ve ever read, and a quote from the review I wrote for Christian Science Monitor about his most recent collection, The Royal Ghosts, actually appears on the back cover of this, his latest novel. [What a surprise that was to find!]

Last week, my book group hens (my mother likes to refer to my book clubbing in humorous onomatopoeic Korean as ‘gathering in the chicken coop’) came over to discuss Upadhyay’s second novel. Although I attempted to post my comments before we met, the day just whooshed by, not the least of which because I read the book on and off during the 24 hours that led up to the meeting (me? procrastinate? never!). Perhaps I’m also in a cloud of denial: if I don’t say this out loud, then it just won’t be true …

Alas, full disclosure: Buddha’s Orphans was a disappointing read; exactly because of the strength of Upadhyay’s stories, I expect as much from his novels. While the jacket flap promises “Nepal’s political upheavals as a backdrop,” what I missed most, ironically, was exactly that: Upadhyay’s complementary, signature ability to weave the intricacies of recent Nepali politics and history with unobtrusive, seamless precision into his narratives as he did in both short story collections. Certainly the looming politics cannot be ignored in this novel, either, but here the effect feels haphazard and disjointed.

That said, Orphans is not a ‘bad’ book … one of my hens remarked she thought it was an ideal ‘beach read.’ At its core is a love story: the foundling Raja and the privileged Nilu meet as the young children of servant and employer, are reunited in high school through Nilu’s elaborate machinations and, except for a brief period of separation, more or less live happily ever after.

Raja never gets over the loss of his birthmother; her suicide when Raja is an infant is noted on the novel’s first page, so no spoilers here. He conveniently (and heartlessly) dismisses the mother who initially, devotedly raised him until he was ‘legally’ stolen by a kind-hearted though weak man and his deranged wife. A few neighborhoods away, Nilu grows up a neglected only child of a wealthy widow. Nilu is left rather orphan-like by her mother’s alcohol and drug addictions, further fueled by a younger man whose lecherous greed extends to nubile Nilu; ironically, the two house servants, one of them being Raja’s discarded second mother, nurture and protect Nilu as best as they can until she makes her own life with Raja.

Through over half a century, the couple’s story navigates through deaths, births, friendships, loss, not to mention a few reincarnations and ghosts. Nilu remains the heroine through it all, although why she holds on to the self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-deceiving Raja seems contrary to her own resilient strength. Yet their bond survives all those decades, even while Raja is ready to risk it all again –”his back to her” – in his middle age as he claims the novel’s final sentence.

In an accompanying interview, Upadhyay admits to being “completely exhausted” after completing an almost 800-page first draft of Orphans. Perhaps that exhaustion is most evident near title’s end (p. 415) when Ranjana refers to her “younger brother” – a  fellow hen also noticed the impossibility as Ranjana was not even born when that brother passed away. But errors or not, Upadhyay’s titles are still something to look forward to … and his next short stories, especially, will certainly be well anticipated.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Nepali, Nepali American

Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry edited by Neelajana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam

The title – Indivisible – the editors explain, is “a word taken from the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.” Through the 49 diverse American voices represented here with roots in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, Indivisible explores “[t]he issue of whether unity and pluralism may be reconciled …” The editors starkly remind that in a post-9/11 world, the “voices [of many South Asian American poets]  had been diminished by the tide of anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiment arising after the attacks.” Given the recent Quran burning threats and the ongoing debates over who is welcomed as Ground Zero’s potential neighbors, that oppressive tide unfortunately remains challenging at best.

Regardless, creative expression will not be stemmed. Through many years of devoted labor, three tenacious editors – Neela Banerjee is a journalist, fiction writer, and editor; Summa Kaipa is a literary curator, psychologist, and magazine editor; and Pireeni Sundaralingam is a playwright, literary judge, and scientist – have created a remarkable collection that pays homage to a “multiplicity of languages, cultures, and faiths” while acknowledging the “inherent contradictions in grouping together writers of such differing backgrounds.”

Established, award-winning writers such as Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Vijay Seshadri, Amitava Kumar, and Meena Alexander, mix experiences with younger, break-out voices including Srikanth Reddy and Shailja Patel. From Reetika Vazirani’s search for elusive glamour in her prose poem “From the Postcard at Vertigo Bookstore in D.C.,” to Tanuja Mehrotra’s borderless memories laid bare in “A Song for New Orleans,” to Sejal Shah’s lost road trip through “Independence, Iowa,” to Sundaralingam’s own unique snowflake discovery in “Vermont, 1885,” these category-defying, form-pushing works criss-cross the country, searching, watching, discovering, being …

Lucky for us as we enjoy the journeys …

Tidbit: Co-editor Pireeni Sundaralingam makes her Smithsonian debut at SALTAF 2010 this Saturday, November 13. She’ll be sharing the stage with award-winning Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni … and me as their moderator. Uh-oh …

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2010

3 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Poetry, Bangladeshi American, Indian American, Nepali American, Pakistani American, South Asian American, Sri Lankan American

The Royal Ghosts: Stories by Samrat Upadhyay

royal-ghostsWhile Samrat Upadhyay’s latest short story collection, The Royal Ghosts: Stories, offers no happy endings, few feel-good moments, and hardly any contented characters, it is most undoubtedly an enticing book to savor and reread for all the nuances you might have missed the first time around.

In each of Upadhyay’s three works – including his two previous titles, the luminous debut short-story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu (2001) and the quietly desperate novel The Guru of Love (2003) – Upadhyay writes unflinchingly about displacement and deprivation in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu.

The city’s unpredictable upheavals are as much a character in his stories as the actual people he writes about.

Although the book’s title comes specifically from the final story with the same name, each of the nine stories in The Royal Ghosts is filled with characters who are haunted by loss.

The collection opens with “A Refugee,” in which a family of three takes in a newly widowed woman and her young daughter after the husband is brutally murdered by Maoist rebels. … [click here for more]

Reviews: Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2006

TBR‘s Contributing Editors’ Favorite Reads of 2006: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things … in Print, That Is …,” The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 2006

Tidbit: Upadhyay was a guest at SALTAF 2006 (South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival), a much-anticipated, highly-attended annual fall event sponsored by the Smithsonian APA Program and NetSAP-DC.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

8 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Short Stories, Nepali, Nepali American, South Asian, South Asian American

Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asian Americans Traverse a Transnational World by Bandana Purkayastha

Negotiating EthnicityA careful examination of 48 second-generation South Asian Americans whose parents arrived from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal during 1965 and the mid-1980s. Through personal stories and sociological context, Purkayastha explores how this second generation projects self-identification in a world where they are clearly not white, yet often not Asian enough.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, August 4, 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Bangladeshi American, Indian American, Nepali American, Pakistani American, South Asian American

The Guru of Love: A Novel by Samrat Upadhyay

Guru of LoveAnother debut novel, this time about a married math teacher, his illicit affair with his teenage tutee, and what happens when he confesses all to his wife. Be ready to be surprised…

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, January 31, 2003

Tidbit: Upadhyay was a guest at SALTAF 2006 (South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival), a much-anticipated, highly-attended annual fall event sponsored by the Smithsonian APA Program and NetSAP-DC.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Nepali American