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Reaching America


RABI THAPA


COMING HOME: Manjushree Thapa unveils her new novel Seasons of Flight at Ramalaya, Panipokhari, Sunday

So this country of emigrants finally gets some immigrant literature in English. It's only fitting that Seasons of Flight comes from Manjushree Thapa, perhaps the most accomplished of Nepali writers who have published fiction in English.

Seasons of Flight is the 'zigzag' tale of a young Nepali woman, Prema, whose life follows a butterfly-like trajectory in every sense of the word. She flits from her village in eastern Nepal to Kathmandu, then to a job in the west of the country, and thence to Los Angeles, courtesy of the green card lottery. She flits from her job as a forester in Nepal to restaurant work and taking care of an elderly lady to conservation again. She flits also from person to person, Nepalis to emigrant Nepalis to Americans, from her lover Rajan in Nepal to attachments both serious and casual in America. And unsurprisingly, she is dissatisfied with her lot.

The book puts one in mind of Thapa's most recent collection of short stories, Tilled Earth. Not simply for its smooth, practised prose and the abundance of charming, touching episodes. But also because of the way the novel is put together. The short chapters of Seasons of Flight are morsels unto themselves, illuminating as they do particular aspects of Nepalipan abroad, such as Prema's encounters with Americans ignorant of Nepal, and the mundaneness of working menial jobs to get by. But does this add up to a substantial repast along the well-worn lines of immigrant literature?

One cannot help but think Manjushree Thapa, herself prone to considerable migratory flight, is addressing herself rather more to an audience outside Nepal. The very first chapter, 'being nepali', suggests as much. Many Nepalis will nod and smile as they read about Prema's encounters with foreigners who think Nepal is Naples. But is evoking the familiar enough to provoke deep reflection on why and how people migrate?

Perhaps the biggest gamble Thapa has taken in Seasons of Flight, however, is on Prema. This self-centred young woman and her odyssey to seek out something more permanent form the lynchpin of the novel. Prema fills the narrative, but comes across as a little two-dimensional, an impression not helped by the stilted speech Thapa furnishes her with. It's telling that Prema finally begins 'connecting' with the wider world through her elderly charge Esther (who she cannot have a coherent conversation with) and her doppelganger, the rare El Segundo butterfly. One suspects some will admire her free-wheeling independence while others will be turned off by her self-absorption, and this empathy or lack of it will determine how readers perceive the novel as a whole.

Seasons of Flight is a serious attempt to delve into the journey of life across time, space and human society. Undoubtedly it will speak to many Nepalis who have experienced the pleasure and pain of leaving one's home behind and seeking another. It will also reach those who may have wondered, however fleetingly, what the lives of the Other in their own cities are like. Thapa manages to capture the nuances of America and its variegated social and physical landscape, as seen through the eyes of Prema. What invisible lines lie between the native and the interloper, and how fluid are these identities? As an addition to the corpus of immigration literature, Seasons of Flight makes for absorbing reading.

Manjushree Thapa's Seasons of Flight is published by Penguin/Viking and is available at major bookstores in Kathmandu.

Hardback price: Rs 638

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1. chasing _che
ok cool ...i am not writing about the novel but i think manjushree had certainly overlooked something important here....the price of book.where an average nepali citizen live on less than a dollar a day, how can we go and buy everytime a book that costs us 600 bucks.sounds ridiculous.She had it published from a renowned publishing house but we simply cannot afford it.i still haven't paid off the money i borrowed last time to buy her non fiction "FORGET KATHMANDU " .Now this one costs another 600 bucks.So two options left- either wait for someone to lend me gratuitously or wait till i manage the amount.She could have kindly managed a few low price editions...

2. yestomanche
maybe the library will get a copy or u can find it in a used book store. :)
MT is not a rich woman and does not own a printing press. Her publisher charges the typical price for paperbacks.


3. Anonymous
Kudo to Manjushree Thapa! She definitely is in a unique (or even privileged?) position; the advantage of "migratory flight" for her is going back and forth, or  becoming both an 'outsider' and 'insider' at the same time. She can glimpse into the 'inner world' of Prema through multiple windows at the same time- feminine, from  a poor 'third-world' country and struggling to settle in the most 'developed' country of the world. Having said that however, if her character is in search of "seeking out something more permanent" (in a spiritual sense) in an ever-changing and cut-throat and rat-race competitive consumer capitalist society, it looks like chasing after a mirage in the desert. The only permanent thing here is eternal toil for material consumption, specially for the newly arrived generation of migrants. How many of them can afford to become a writer, like Manju; or even if you are a world-renowned writer do you really find your inner peace in this 'alien' land? Even the great Solszenytsin was disappointed at the end and the nostalgia for his native land made him return back to Russia. If you ever have luxury to think of your 'cultural identity' you become lost in the  inner contradiction between the 'melting pot' and 'multicultural' plurality, a debate that has been going on for the last two centuries in this New World. This is a land of opportunity, but not for the faint hearts! You will remain a lone 'outsider' and an exception to the 'Exceptionalism' in a spiritual sense. Is Manju trying to search herself in Seasons of Flight?


4. Sargam

Of late, Ms. Manjushree Thapa, as an eyewitness, saw everything what was happening in Kathmandu while Maoists party was all set to put the lives of the capital upside down by means of rabble-rousing. She wrote a wrap-up regarding this event in The New York Times, more precisely on May 06, 2010 with the title, 'Waiting at the top of the world.':

" 'Unsustainable' is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the future of Kathmandu." She retorted.

Her message to the Nepalese youth is quite eloquent, "Grow up fast because the older generations aren't doing a great job. I think the younger generation is going to have to smash all our orthodoxies and build new egalitarian and open societies in Nepal!" The second part of that is an exact reminder. Smashing old structures – especially when they are already crumbling – is comparatively easy. Creating a new society is a real challenge.

While you go through her rundown what arrests immediately your attention is her chutzpah, steadfastness and incisive vision and the solutions thereof she permutes which is the sign of her acuity of farsightedness honed through her travels and at the same time she doesn't beguile time in beating about the bush.

The conventional wisdom is that the world where we live in has changed and there are people who feel it and they know instinctively how to adapt themselves. And the writers are the people who feel it while they simply sit down at the terrace of a café and observe the crowd that goes astray.

Her new novel 'Seasons of Flight' is the narrative of present Nepal where no sooner folks find the occasion they flee away to far away countries like the USA, Canada, Australia or the Great Britain because if they stay back at home there is for them little scope for improvement, whereas in those aforesaid countries they can avail themselves of the opportunity, and it is nevertheless easier for them to adapt themselves because of English language.

The symbol of butterfly itself is so transient, as we notice, no sooner does it come out of its chrysalis it flies away toward the unknown and adventurous horizons. And it is so light but who knows about its butterfly effect.

For once, our Nepalese expats are desperately experiencing different aspects of life. Should it be for the lure of gain or is that a new type of human adventure full of unknown surprises, each one appreciates the true worth of it. I hope Thapa's latest novel is unputdownable.

Oddly enough, here we can easily jump to conclusions. We are in presence of an astute brain drain process where the troubled third world countries like Nepal spend millions to produce physicians, engineers, economists and experts of all sorts by paying scholarships or else from the state treasury, and at length those countries of the immigration destinations take the benefits of all that spending just by enticing them with green cards. There is nothing specific to crow over.

It is not their fault anyway. If back home those politicos wouldn't be wasting times in bickering instead of mapping out a solution, most probably a very few will migrate. Instead, they would for sure devote themselves to the construction of their country.

What Ms. Thapa has to offer may sound not everybody's idea of an appreciation. But without taking it as a fait accompli, let us take it as a canny and strategic posture with a moral high ground and an in-depth insight into something whereof as a writer she possesses the brilliant form to take up the mantle of Nepalese literature of Diaspora. Things will sort themselves out in time.

Paeans of praise to her, anyhow.

Please log on to the following URL to read the wrap-up by Ms. Manjushree Thapa:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06thapa.html




5. Chandra Gurung
"It is not their fault anyway. If back home those politicos wouldn't be wasting times in bickering instead of mapping out a solution, most probably a very few will migrate. Instead, they would for sure devote themselves to the construction of their country."
Sargam,
What an irony you should write this.
Just prior to this sentence, you noted that these very politicians (i.e. state) spent millions to produce physicians, engineers et cetera. The reality of Nepal is not that politicians are doing really bad job, it is the educated class that has fared worse. The professionals who flight rather than staying to change, the writers who curse the politicians and praise these deserters and the foreigners who encourage such desertion are all equally culpable--as much as the politicians. 


6. Harka Gurung
Chandra remember we died together? Where is your education now?


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