Saturday, June 12, 2010

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ECS Review

New Nepal, New Voices... new writers, new ideas, great reading. That’s my first take on this book of short stories edited by two Kathmandu-based Nepali writers, Sushma Joshi and Ajit Baral, each of whom has an enviable background in the expressive arts. The anthology features 15 story tellers and all but one story takes place in Nepal, the exception being ‘The face of Carolyn Flint’, about the (fictional?) American acquaintance of a Nepali living in California. Most of the authors are Nepali, some with familiar names on the Nepalese writing scene (e.g., Manjushree Thapa, Sushma Joshi, Sanjeev Uprety and others). Two are long-term Nepal-resident expats (Greta Rana and Wayne Amtzis). Maybe some of the authors use pseudonyms. That’s okay, for talent does not stop with one’s name, or nationality, or political persuasion. Art is universal, as this collection clearly demonstrates.

In this moment of tremendous change and great hope for Nepal (yet to be fully realized), this is a timely book, for it shows off one area where many artists in, from, or about Nepal excel: in creative writing, despite (or perhaps fueled by) trouble in the streets and the political malaise.

The stories here cover a diverse array of ideas and issues, including character sketches, social traumas, personal imperfections, psycho-drama, family troubles—but don’t misunderstand, the themes are not all negative. Most appear here in print for the first time, but at least two have been published before to prior critical acclaim. Some story titles are provocative; e.g., ‘Love and lust in the Maoist hinterland’ by Ajit Baral, ‘Dark Kathmandu sideways’ by
Peter John Karthak, ‘Heroes and onions’ by Sanjeev Uprety. Some titles look plain, even mundane, like ‘The hill’ by Greta Rana—but don’t be fooled, this particular hill packs a powerful punch! And check out the short-titled ‘Tattoo’ by Soham Dhakal, ‘Downpour’ by Madan K. Limbu and ‘Rent’ by Gyanu Sharma. The shortest of the stories in the anthology have promising titles: ‘Walk Fast’ and ‘Scorpion’s Sting’.

The editors wanted “effable, humorous, beautiful stories,” for this book. “And we got them,” they say. That they received more good tales than they could publish, and that choosing which to print here was not easy, is encouraging, for it means that there are more good writers out there for future anthologies...

According to the Contributors list, some of the authors are full time writers and some work in other professions and simply like to write. Dhakal, for example, is a software professional who happens to enjoy poetry, screenplay and short story writing. And while Amtzis is a writer and poet, he’s also a photographer. Karthak undoubtedly gets grist for his stories from his past engagements as a rock bandleader, studio musician, croupier/casino inspector, highway builder, lecturer, travel agent and tourist guide. On the other hand, ‘Tara’, we learn, is simply “a writer from Kathmandu.” Okay. All are talented, and I’m impressed knowing that for some of them English is undoubtedly a second or third language.

The editors are also kind to the non-Nepali readers in the audience by providing a Glossary, ranging from abhor (vermillion) to yogini (female yogi) and including kuire, Nepali slang for a Caucasian or white person; it literally means “foggy eyes”. So it does The stories here are good reads, and this anthology is recommended to all who appreciate good writing.

Published by Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2008. 187pp. Available in Kathmandu bookstores for NRs 312.

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