All of us in our own lives, is a realistic fiction, set for the most part along the picturesque hills, valleys and riversides of the Nepalese countryside. The novel traces some important events in the life of four people, all of whom are connected to Nepal in one way or the other. There is Ava Berriden, a Canadian lawyer, who is a Nepali by birth, Gyanu, a chef working in Dubai, Indra Sharma, an ambitious deputy director at a Nepal based NGO and Sapana, a village girl, who dreams of making it big it someday. Although the tracks run separately in the beginning, they eventually come together, with the life and work of each character, having a bearing on the other, either directly or indirectly.
Through the book, we are given a glimpse of international aid, their collaboration with national NGOs, which in turn work at a lower level with village Community-Based-Organizations (CBOs), which are meant to reach out directly to the villagers. We are exposed to many issues facing these organizations – apathy of senior officials to the actual living conditions in the areas they are meant to fund and other, more common ones like corruption for personal gain, among the key players in these organizations. We are also given a taste of the day to day problems faced by the people, especially in the villages – poverty, caste divisions, gender inequality, lack of water and electricity, to name just a few.
The narrative is simple and engaging, making for an easy read. We also feel intimate with each character, being able to sympathize with their choices, misgivings, ambitions and fears. With Ava, we perceive a person, who has always looked for some lost connection from her past, a missing link in her life story she is convinced she’ll find at her place of birth, although she is now a Canadian for all practical purposes. It is this feeling of an unfinished business that impels her to take up a job as Director of Women’s Empowerment at the IDAF, an international aid organization in Kathmandu. Her experiences on her field trips to the CBOs where she gets a taste of the living conditions in the villages, leaves her shuddering at the thought of how her life would have turned out, had it not been for her Canadian foster parents.
With Gyanu, we have a simple, but ambitious Nepali man, who leaves his country in search of a better quality of life. Though he has to shirk off some responsibilities towards his now orphaned sister, we are able to empathize with his choices – the slow paced poverty stricken life at his native village, hardly appeals to him. He wants more – he wants to be with his beloved, in a foreign land, where he is more at ease – with work and the lifestyle in general.
Sapana, Gyanu’s sister has been portrayed as a feisty teenager, who wants to carve out her own path in life, although the village she stays in and the relatives she stays with provide her with limited opportunity to do so. Thus, when she is offered the post of treasurer for her village’s CBO, she takes on the responsibility with zest, and decides to strive hard to improve the working conditions in her CBO and also chase a personal dream of a college education.
Indira Sharma, on the other hand is what we would call an ‘elite’ Nepali woman, obviously belonging to an upper caste. However, her battle to overcome gender inequality to become the director of her organization is something we all would empathize with. Also her love for and efforts to improve the life of her “servant girl”, Durga does not fail to leave a mark on the reader’s mind. Her struggle for power and authority, both at home and at work, is something many of us, working women, would definitely connect with.
All the four protagonists do not fail to impress, and the book gives us a crisp, if abridged, picture of the living conditions in Nepal – a country reeling under the after effects of a recent, devastating earthquake and a newly formed and as yet unstable constitution. We have a glimpse of day to day life in villages and also in the city through the urban household of Indira Shrama. We also glimpse these through the eyes of a foreigner. The book ends in a positive note – with the future holding a lot of promise for each character.
If you are someone who loves the works of writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Amitav Ghosh or Khaled Hoseini, some of whose works involve the struggles and joys of ordinary day to day life, or if you are a lover of realistic fiction in general, you would definitely enjoy reading this book!
About the Author:
Manjushree Thapa grew up in Nepal, Canada and the USA. She began to write upon completing her BFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her first book was Mustang Bhot in Fragments (1992). In 2001 she published the novel The Tutor of History, which she had begun as her MFA thesis in the creative writing program at the University of Washington. Her best known book is Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy (2005), published just weeks before the royal coup in Nepal on 1 February 2005. The book was shortlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award in 2006.After the publication of the book, Thapa left the country to write against the coup. In 2007 she published a short story collection, Tilled Earth. In 2009 she published a biography of a Nepali environmentalist: ‘A Boy from Siklis: The Life and Times of Chandra Gurung.’ The following year she published a novel, ‘Seasons of Flight.’ In 2011 she published a nonfiction collection, ‘The Lives We Have Lost: Essays and Opinions on Nepal.’ She has also written as an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. During the fall and winter of 2011, she was writer-in-residence at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. (Source : Goodreads)
Reviewed by: Sindhuja Ramasubramanian
She is an IT professional and a freelance writer based out of Bangalore, India. Her work (including essays, poetry and short fiction) has appeared in newspapers and journals like The Hindu, Muse India, eFiction India, The Reading Hour, The Tower Journal and The Aerogram. Check out her blog.