Category Archives: Nepali

The End of the World by Sushma Joshi

Few Nepali writers have thus far landed on western bookshelves, with only two exceptions who come immediately to mind – elegant Samrat Upadhyay (Arresting God in KathmanduThe Royal Ghosts) and activist Manjushree Thapa (The Tutor of History, Seasons of Flight). So to find another Nepali author writing in English is a gratifying discovery indeed.

Born and based in Kathmandu, Sushma Joshi is another hybrid global writer (and filmmaker), with her Indian and American education, as well as numerous fellowships and residencies all over the world. First published in Nepal in 2008, Joshi’s debut short story collection (which includes an acknowledging – small world – nod to Thapa), was one of 57 titles long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2009. Reprinted late last year, World is immediately available via Kindle (for just $2.99 currently). [NO, I am absolutely not a sudden Kindle-convert, but impatience will make me do strange things!]

What proves most memorable about the collection’s eight stories is an open earnestness in Joshi’s storytelling. Her writing is guileless and energetic, at times refreshing although occasionally a bit clumsy. If her writing seems to lack a polished, sustained subtlety, her directness gives her stories a welcome sense of truthful urgency.

Notables include “Cheese,” in which a servant boy must wait decades to finally taste the precious foreign treat called “chij,” “Law and Order” in which a wannabe officer settles for the local police force but can’t live according to the law, “The End of the World” about the ironic sense of freedom people briefly experience thinking that tomorrow will never come, and “The Blockade” about a man who has spent a year away in foreign menial labor in order to support his family and returns home to disaster.

In each of Joshi’s stories, everyday people are merely trying to survive challenges far beyond their own making, whether strict social stratification, unending war, widespread corruption, political upheavals, or all-consuming natural disasters. Nepal’s last tumultuous decades have left the citizens with little room for anything more than the struggle to just get through the day. Most tragic of all is a sense of resigned acceptance that leaves little hope for a future desperately in need of change.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Nepali

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

Close Encounters of a Third-World Kind by Jennifer J. Stewart

Look past the cheesy cover and pop-culture title … and what you’ll find within is a heartfelt story of one American family’s life-changing experiences in a remote Himalayan village in Nepal. Author Jennifer J. Stewart promises “seriously funny books for children,” and here she definitely delivers both serious and funny.

When 12-year-old Annie’s parents announce they’re headed to Nepal where her father will lead a medical service team, she’s thrilled about missing school for two months, but not so sure about what to expect. The final flight to their destination (on a plane that belongs more in a museum than actually in the air) is “stomach-wrenching,” the long steep trek “torture,” she’s stuck sharing a tent with her 5-year-old sister Chelsea, she’s not sure if she’s brought enough M&Ms to last, and people keep offering sympathy to her parents for having two daughters instead of any sons. “Welcome to my nightmare,” she intones.

Then Annie meets Nirmala, a local girl of 10 who quickly becomes a helpful fixture in the busy, makeshift clinic. With her widowed mother unable to afford her school fees, Nirmala appears daily. She makes herself indispensable to the adults; unlike the official translators who only repeat what the doctors might want to hear, Nirmala speaks the truth with her limited English. When she’s not ‘working,’ she’s a perfect companion for Annie and Chelsea, even when their adventures go rather awry. Nirmala’s openness is both inviting and poignant, and Annie begins to realize surprising new truths about her own self.

The two months pass all too quickly, and more and more, Annie can hardly bear to imagine her days without Nirmala – “it felt like being chopped in half.” So Annie blurts out an outrageous plan … that just might prove to be the best idea for all.

Stewart’s light, often humorous style never lectures; she’s also perceptively sensitive when laughter is not appropriate. Mixed in with the goofy, giddy fun are reminders of life’s not-so-happy realities – a father’s too-early death, incurable diseases, gender inequity, and uncertain futures – presented with just enough detail to encourage younger readers to think beyond their comfort zone …

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2004

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Nepali, Nonethnic-specific

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

Two warnings: 1. Don’t read Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal in public unless you enjoy making a spectacle of yourself, wiping your eyes and blowing your nose every few pages; 2. Skip the middle photo insert until you’ve read the final page. My sole quibble with this book would be that the pictures – thoroughly appreciated! – need to appear at story’s end so as not to reveal too much too soon. Other than that, get ready to be mesmerized by a wildly emotional thrill ride.

At age 29, Conor Grennan quit his international public policy job with peripatetic intentions, ready to invest his “entire net worth on a trip around the world.” His first stop was a three-month volunteer stint in an orphanage in Nepal. He readily confesses that his lofty decision originated in earning bragging rights, as well as combating any forthcoming criticism about the “unrepentantly self-indulgent” nature of such a trip. He even formulated the perfect “selfless” response: “Well frankly, Mom, I didn’t peg you for somebody who hates orphans.”

Although Grennan learns that Nepal is in the middle of an endless civil war, he reasons that that’s just an exaggeration: “No organization was going to send volunteers into a conflict zone.” He knows next to nothing about the Nepali language, history, customs, food. And, ironically, he lacks even “a single skill that … would be applicable to working with kids” when he arrives in November 2004 at Little Princes Children’s Home (named after Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince by its French founder) in Godavari, a bus ride – and a world – outside Nepal’s capital of Katmandu.

For three months, Grennan lives with, takes care of, teaches, and comes to deeply admire and love the 18 Little Princes – 16 boys and two girls. Eventually, he makes a shocking discovery: The children are not orphans. They are from the isolated northwest province of Humla – a stronghold of the Maoists, Nepal’s most extreme rebel army – and were taken from their parents by a human trafficker.

With a never-end­ing civil war, Maoist insur­gents resorted to abducting even the youngest children to repopulate their depleted forces. Desperate parents sold whatever they could to pay virtual strangers who promised to protect and educate their children away from war. Too often these strangers were child traffickers, selling the boys as domestic slaves, shipping the girls to brothels; Little Princes’s founder had rescued the 18 children from a powerful trafficker virtually above the law.Grennan can’t imagine the horrors and tragedies these children – who are so quick to laugh and smile – must have survived. Soon they become “my” and “our” children. Their resilience, determination, and boundless love change the direction of Grennan’s life.

When he leaves for the rest of his world tour in January 2005 he promises to return. One year later, he eagerly lands back with his Little Princes for another three months. The joy of witnessing two of his Princes reunite with their mother is dampened by the discovery of seven additional trafficked, starving children in need of rescuing. But by now it’s April 2007 and Nepal is exploding in political turmoil. The country is not safe for foreigners and Grennan must leave. But before he goes he makes arrangements for the seven children to be moved to safety.

Three weeks later, while job hunting from his mother’s New Jersey home, Grennan receives “the e-mail … that changed everything”: “The seven children were gone.”

If you’ve never believed in miracles, this book could convince you otherwise. By September 2006 – with the matched determination of a fellow Little Princes volunteer, Farid Anit-Mansour – Grennan establishes his own nonprofit, Next Generation Nepal, named for “the lost generation of kids.” He raises enough funds to get back to Nepal and support his own children’s home. Not only will he search for his “seven needles in a haystack,” he will eventually risk life and limb to reunite his trafficked children with their faraway families. He’ll also somehow manage to find his soul mate, whom he woos, 21st-century e-style, from thousands of miles away.

Like the children he writes about, Grennan has boundless resilience and determination, in addition to self-effacing humor and tunnel-vision devotion. He’s also a good writer – considerably better than Greg Mortenson’s co-writer David Oliver Relin who penned runaway bestseller Three Cups of Tea. That’s promising news for Grennan’s beloved children, because a portion of the proceeds from the book’s hopefully spectacular sales will be donated to Next Generation Nepal.

Go buy multiple copies… invest in a miracle or two or more.

Review: “Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan: How One Man’s Jaunt to Nepal Became a Mission of Mercy,” Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2011

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011

3 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Nepali

I See the Sun in Nepal by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese, translation by Chij Shrestha

From China to Nepal, boutique press Satya House Publications offers the second title in their I See the Sun series in which a young girl shares her day in the hilly rural village of Bandipur.

The girl greets the sun, as the Himalayan mountains turn “pink and gold” with the dawn’s light. At night, tucked cozily into bed, she sees the moon making the “snowy mountains glow like pearls.” In between, her day is filled with family meals, morning chores, lessons at school where students from three villages gather, playing with friends, and helping her parents in the nearby fields.

While the details of the young Nepali girl’s life might be slightly different from the lives of American readers – for example, she eats a breakfast of tea and chiura (a traditional pounded rice dish), and her older sister milks a water buffalo – the overall message is similar all over the world. Family, friends, community – including, and especially, education – are the cornerstones of all our lives, no matter our diverse geographical locations.

The same author/illustrator duo who created I See the Sun in China, give Nepal a recognizable look-and-feel; Judith Inglese‘s collages that layer photos, cut-outs, and illustrations again provide the story with a depth beyond the flat page. The bilingual nature of the series is also certainly a major plus. All future titles – I See the Sun in Afghanistan is scheduled for an early 2011 debut – will follow a similar visual look, with the all-important bilingual text.

Which leads me to make a heartfelt suggestion: anyone or any companies out there thinking of book donations to organizations abroad should seriously consider a bulk order with Satya House. Move over Peter Rabbit and Hop on Pop! Providing a learning tool with recognizable characters and surroundings, in a language students aspire to speak with a native translation to guide them … now that’s a true (and useful) gift of education.

Readers: Children

Published: 2010

2 Comments

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Bilingual, .Fiction, Nepali, Nonethnic-specific

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

Sacred Mountain Everest by Christine Taylor-Butler

sacred-mountain-everestAn informative look – underscored with lively photographs – at the history and future of Mount Everest, a sacred place for the locals, overtaken by adventurous tourism, and currently suffering the high price of so-called modern progress.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2009

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2009

2 Comments

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Nonfiction, Nepali

Mountains Painted with Turmeric by Lil Bahadur Chettri, translated by Michael J. Hutt

mountains-painted-with-turmericIronically named “Wealthy One,” Dhané is a poor farmer who can’t get a lucky break in the small village his family has called home for many generations. Originally published in the 1950s, this new edition offers a rare, resonating glimpse of remote Nepali life – including an unflinching look at the corruption of those in power against those without.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Survey of New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2008

Readers: Adult

Published: 2008 (United States)

4 Comments

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

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Although her family is extremely poor, 13-year-old Lakshmi’s young life in a mountainous village in Nepal is not without moments of great joy and comfort. But then the monsoons arrive, leaving behind only destruction and deprivation. Lakshmi’s stepfather decides she must leave the family, and somehow support the family.

For the promise of 800 rupees and a job as a maid, Lakshmi follows a “lovely city woman” down the mountain with hopes of saving her family. She arrives to a shocking, harrowing new life, sold to a brothel as a sex slave, burdened with fabricated huge debts that she can never ever repay. In spite of the violence and abuse she suffers every day, Lakshmi manages to form life-saving bonds with her fellow slaves… and together, they dare dream of another life.

Patricia McCormick, who was a 2006 National Book Award finalist for Young People’s Literature for Sold, is certainly no stranger to difficult issues young people face, having tackled self-mutilation in Cut and drug addiction in My Brother’s Keeper. She writes with a haunting immediacy – in this case, using the sparest prose poetry – that underscores Lakshmi’s desperate situation, as if the brevity of the sparsely powerful chapters is all that the young girl can reveal in between trying to stay alive. The result is both horrific and hopeful, terrifying and triumphant .. and surely not to be missed.

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2006

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Poetry, Nepali, Nonethnic-specific

Tiger of the Snows: Tenzing Norgay: The Boy Whose Dream Was Everest by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ed Young

tiger-of-the-snowsEd Young’s superb illustrations bring to life the journey of legendary Nepali Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who, together with Edmund Hillary, became the first climbers to reach the top of Mt. Everest in 1953. While Sir Hillary’s name is certainly better known in the West, the achievement belongs at least as equally (if not more so) to the accomplished, dedicated Tenzing Norgay.

Reviews: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Literary Survey,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 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

Readers: Children

Published: 2006

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Nepali