20 Reviews in 20 Years

In 999 issues the Nepali Times has reviewed hundreds of books, from political thrillers
on the Maoist conflict to novels and travelogues. Excerpts from selected reviews:

The Tutor of History by Manjushree Thapa

Review by Indra Bahadur Rai (#65 19-25 October 2001)

For us Nepali-speaking readers the Nepali world presented in the novel is in some senses a given. We proceed to read the novel with prior knowledge. This, however, should not make us complacent that we know all there is to learn about ourselves and our society. The novel having been written in English, a language alien to the community described, assumes the aspect of clinical detachment and so the picture that emerges is, in large measure, an evaluation of us. 

The Tutor of History by Manjushree Thapa

A mirror is held to us and the picture that results is not as we might be used to or as we might like it to be. Incidents, remarks and conversations, however seemingly stray or redundant, are organically organised and form parts of a connected whole. Thapa has, while writing the novel in English, refused to follow the easier way of catering to the taste of westerners or pandering to their preconceived notions. For her, writing is a mission, a sacred covenant between the writer and the Nepali people.

Palpasa Cafe by Narayan Wagle

Palpasa Cafe - Narayan Wagle

Review by Kunda Dixit (Issue #256 15-21 July 2005)

Not only is this novel as fresh as an open wound, the author’s imagination makes Nepal’s real unfolding tragedy come alive with raw urgency. The plot is rendered in a non-linear style that is experimental in the world of Nepali fiction. Wagle’s Nepali is simple, colloquial and his voice is genuine and sincere. Drishya comes across sometimes as being unnecessarily abrasive, but Palpasa is an authentic diaspora daughter caught between love for her motherland and alienation from her adopted home.

         Narayan Wagle’s book can be called an anti-war novel. It drags us to the edge and forces us to peer down at the abyss below. It is being released this weekend and is going to be talked about for a long time.

The Royal Ghosts: Stories - Samrat Upadhyay

Review by Kunda Dixit (#308 28 July-3 August 2006)

The Royal Ghosts employs Upadhyay’s trademark prose, a bare-bones use of the English language and a minimalist style. At a time when English language novelists from the subcontinent lather their magical realist plots with self-conscious wordplay to try to be original, Upadhyay uses understated language to mirror the understated emotions of his characters. It is the difference between a line drawing and a baroque painting.

The Royal Ghosts by Samrat Upadhyay

Each of the stories is woven around a plot that turns on the tensions that buffet middle class Nepali society in its headlong dash towards modernity. There are neither easy answers nor safe conclusions as the characters come to grips with arranged marriages, the generation gap, relationships, incest, mental illness and homosexuality. The sexual subtext is treated with subtlety: love lost, love unspoken, love squandered and love regained. All the while in the background are the shattering historical events of Nepal’s recent past: the royal massacre, the insurgency, pro-democracy demonstrations.

Down History’s Narrow Lanes: Sketches and Myths of the Kathmandu Valley by Desmond Doig and Dubby Bhagat

Down History’s Narrow Lanes: Sketches and Myths of the Kathmandu Valley - Desmond Doig and Dubby Bhagat

Review by Sonia Awale (#461 24 July-30 July 2009)

The long-awaited new edition brings back to us Doig’s exquisite line drawings of Kathmandu Valley temples, bahals and stupas (carried in weekly installments in this paper from 2000-2005 under the banner ‘Saving Faith’). And it’s not just the drawings, the language also has fairy-tale quality to it with chapter titles like: ‘The Gate of the Vermilion God’, ‘Where Serpents Breathe Fire’, ‘The City Vishnu May Have Built’, ‘The Jewelled Gift of the Snake God’, The Gorge of the Flaming Sword’.

They’re about shrines we pass every day on the way to work, now dwarfed by taller, more recent constructions. It’s about festivals in our midsts. It is therefore essential reading not just for expats but also for Kathmandu residents who have forgotten about their rich heritage.

Doig and Bhagat look at the Valley’s history and myths, the shrines and courtyards of the Newari towns and their origins. Like a cherry on top are the illustrations which give the book a fairy tale aura by putting the story-telling and the sketches side-by-side. But above all, the book makes it possible for readers to sense the antecedents of this mythical land and its mysterious past.

Jeevan Kaanda ki Phool by Jhamak Kumari Ghimire

Jeevan Kaanda ki Phool - Jhamak Kumari Ghimire

Review by Supriya Sharma (#516 20-26 August 2010

In one of the most telling passages in the book, Ghimire refers to herself as a mother to her writing, and her desire to have her ‘children’ succeed on their own is analogous to her longing to be a worthwhile child to her own mother, and a valuable and talented member of her own society. It isn’t a stretch to say that she got what she wanted. Ghimire’s prose is lucid, her expression clear. 

Though certain passages and chapters contain redundancies that prevent them from achieving the same fluidity and poignancy that others possess, she is still able to weave in and out of memory with great ease, with sarcastic wit and a fantastic sense of humour. Her disdain for pity and the patronising attitudes around her is reflected in her desire to be known for more than her ability to write with her foot, and her continuing thirst for liberty and self-expression moves her life, and her writing, forward.

Chapamar Yubati Ko Diary -  Tara Rai

Review by Rubeena Mahato (#579 18-24 November 2011)

At 23, Tara Rai has seen it all. She has been a guerrilla in the Maoist army, she has spent time in jail, and now she is the best-selling author of an acclaimed book that has sold eight editions in one year. As she prepares to bring out the ninth edition of Chapamar Yubati Ko Diary while working on another war-based novel, she is pensive and a bit philosophical these days. 

Chapamar Yubati Ko Diary by Tara Rai

“I have no regrets,” she told us, “but these days I have doubts about whether the war was necessary.” Different from the usual narratives of Nepali war literature, it neither demonised the enemy nor was it over-burdened with ideology. It gave a heartfelt, honest account of a girl’s struggle as she battled adversity, forged emotional bonds with her captors and finally broke off from her party to start afresh.

The Gurkha’s Daughter by Prajwal Parajuly

The Gurkha’s Daughter - Prajwal Parajuly

Review by Shreya Thapa (#649 29 March-4 April 2013)

Though there is some criticism to be made about the almost unoriginal content (how many more stories of low/middle-class Nepalis are we going to have to read?), Parajuly manages to succeed where many have failed: his stories are actually convincing. While others have attempted to tell the tale of everyday lives, Parajuly portrays characters and scenarios that Nepalis can identify with, non-Nepalis can learn from without being misled, and that everyone can enjoy. There is no selling out, no vanity, or pretence—all of the stories are absolutely believable.

 At first, the tales may leave you unsatisfied—one questions if the author didn’t reach the depths he could have. But it becomes quickly apparent that wanting more is the carefully crafted effect of realistic characters who instill emotional attachments.

Kamlari Dekhi Sabhasad Samma (Nepali) - Shanta Chaudhari

Review by Samman Humagain 

(#670 23-29 August 2013)

After the CA was dissolved, Shanta decided to write about her life. And what a life. Told in simple, heartfelt sentences, you have to fight back tears as you learn of the tragic injustice that little girls like Shanta had to suffer. But there is little bitterness or resentment here, only a determination to set things right. Between the lines, you get a glimpse of the fierce fortitude of this remarkable woman.

Kamlari Dekhi Sabhasad Samma by Shanta Chaudhari
A Home in Tibet by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

A Home in Tibet - Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

Review by Kunda Dixit (#673 13-19 September 2013)

It is difficult to read A Home in Tibet without a deep dull ache inside when you come to sentences like these: ‘Here in Tibet live the people my mother taught me to love before I met them. We are family, and love has undetermined aptitude and great hunger.’ You need not be Tibetan to recognise the universal emptiness of homelessness, and the joys of reunion with one’s roots. Confront cruelty with kindness, harshness with hope, seems to be Tsering Wangmo’s message as she ends the book with a final prayer: ‘There is great strength in believing that things will eventually right themselves. Because they must.


The Living Goddess - Isabella Tree

Review by Kunda Dixit (#701 4-10 April 2014)

Because it is written by a journalist, The Living Goddess is heavy on research and interviews as it delves into the cultural history of the tradition of the living goddess. There is not a lot of it that is new there, but Tree digs deeper to investigate the symbolism and faith that has allowed the Kumari tradition to evolve and survive several regime changes in Kathmandu in the past centuries.

The Living Goddess by Isabella Tree

Tree goes back to the history of the Malla dynasty in Kathmandu Valley and the Shah kings from Gorkha who conquered them in 1767. The Kumari tradition may have emerged as a Mahayana Buddhist practice, but is inextricably tied with the Devi-worship of Hindu kings and the emergence of Kathmandu as a centre of tantric beliefs and rituals. For Prithvi Naryan Shah to arrive at Hanuman Dhoka Palace on the day of Indra Jatra and touch the feet of the Kumari was a dramatic public relations move, and attempt to ensure that the Valley that he had finally conquered would accept him as king.

Battles of the New Republic by Prashant Jha

Battles of the New Republic - Prashant Jha

Review by Anurag Acharya (#711 13-19 June 2014)

Battles of the New Republic is a meticulously researched book, a tale of aspiration, conviction and empowerment, as well as about anger and dejection with hopes dashed. The plot is almost cinematic with an array of emotions including passion, empathy, ambition, envy, greed, lust, betrayal and revenge. In that sense it is a political thriller.

Jha ends with a note of hope, a tinge of optimism, to remind us of the momentous changes to which he had a ringside seat.  

Kathmandu - Thomas Bell

Review by David Seddon (#727 10-16 October 2014)

The first part of the book explores the city as mandala or microcosm, in part through the attempts of successive (mainly Western) scholars to ‘unpeel’ the history and pre-history of the ancient Malla kingdoms, and in part through visits by the author himself to parts of the city where the past still permeates the present as in the structure and layout of the buildings, the narrow lanes and choks, the temples and the monasteries.

Kathmandu by Thomas Bell

 The ancient trade routes are still visible in the street plans of Kathmandu and Patan. ‘The mandala is more than a map of the city. It is a social and political ideology, a description of the order of the universe, which is repeated in a well-ordered city here on earth.’         

Bell’s Kathmandu is part of the wider Nepali political economy, and while his central preoccupation is with the city itself, he does not confine himself to it. Nor is he only concerned with buildings and structures, as a journalist his main source of information is conversations. He talks with all and sundry: with Maoists in the field, with politicians, with members of the army and the police, with expatriates. He listens to the ordinary and extraordinary citizens of Kathmandu, who speak often with great authority and insight.

Lost in Transition by Kul Chandra Gautam

Lost in Transition - Kul Chandra Gautam

Review by Rubeena Mahato (#785 4-10 December 2015)

Lost In Transition attempts to dig deeper and presents a more nuanced and sensible understanding of our problems with clear and detailed way-forwards. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, it is a tremendously hopeful book, laying in concrete terms a roadmap with which Nepal can prosper and achieve stability. The epilogue of the book discusses the Indian blockade and what Nepal can do to initiate negotiations and secure its interests against larger and hostile neighbours.

What carries the book beyond its rigour is its sincerity and impassioned defense of democratic values and principles. At the very beginning one gets a glimpse of what inspires the writer. With an earnestness characteristic of his humble beginnings from a village in Gulmi, Gautam speaks of an identity that binds all Nepalis, a pursuit of shared prosperity for themselves and their children. And it is this desire to leave a better Nepal behind for future generations, that resonates throughout the book.

City of Dreams - Pranaya SJB Rana

Review by Rabi Thapa (#789 1-7 January 2016)

Why should a book review begin in such didactic fashion? You may only want to know if City of Dreams is good, or bad. But in freely indulging himself in both social realism and fable, Pranaya SJB Rana (pic) has rather forced this reviewer to approach his debut collection of short stories crab-like, each pincer holding up a quite different species of fictive āhārā.

City of Dreams by Pranaya SJB Rana

In truth, I dove straight in. The eponymous opener, about a man who likes to walk the streets of Kathmandu, and the next, about a man who stumbles across an intermittent muse on the streets of New York, sucked me into a phantasmagoric landscape strongly reminiscent of Calvino and Borges, both declared inspirations of Rana. The stories charmed me, just as the author’s winning entry to this year’s Writing Nepal had, which told of a man who can’t stop taking photos. I was convinced Rana had grown tired of documenting – perhaps he felt enough had been made of the preoccupations of Kathmandu’s middle class – particularly given the visceral realism of earlier stories of his. The prose was accomplished, the possibilities rich; I felt a rare excitement.

Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu by Rabi Thapa

Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu - Rabi Thapa

Review by Smriti Basnet (#854
14-20 April 2017)

Thamel is a poignant tale of the city we lost to time. Thapa reminisces about the good old days. His almost lyrical words transport the readers to a bygone era, away from its concrete present (‘… the new, brash Thamel that spins every which way from Narsingh Chowk fades from the senses, giving way to a typical Newar tol of cramped brick houses with tiled roofs …’).

         Interspersed with accounts of real people – a recovering junkie, a band member, a sex worker, a nonagenerian shopkeeper who has been witness to changes in the area and many other interesting lives – he lays Thamel’s soul bare. For a book that has covered the area and its multiple facets, it is surprisingly not a complicated read. What adds extra value and depth are the small excerpts from works of King Pratap Malla, Shakespeare, Nietzche, different proverbs and text at the beginning of the chapters written by the author.

Singha Durbar: Rise and Fall of the Rana Regime of Nepal - Sagar SJB Rana

Review by Kunda Dixit (#861 2-8 June 2017)

This inter-generational involvement of a Rana in Nepal’s democratic politics makes Singha Durbar: Rise and Fall of the Rana Regime of Nepal a compelling and unprejudiced history of Nepal’s other royal family from 1847-1951. Sourced from archival material, historical memoirs in Nepali, interviews with members of the Rana clan, and an unpublished diary of his father, Sagar Rana’s book is meticulously researched and in places moves like a thriller.

Singha Durbar: Rise and Rall of the Rana Regime in Nepal
The Wayward Daughter by Shradha Ghale

The Wayward Daughter - Shradha Ghale

Review by Sewa Bhattarai (#939 21-27 December)

The Wayward Daughter succeeds in her deliberate attempt to portray a rich cross-section of Nepali society, showing how caste, class, and gender influence everyday life in Kathmandu. The story is about growing up in a multifarious, almost dystopian world that Nepal has become. Youngsters abandon traditions for modernity, as they prepare to go abroad for higher studies. 

Healed -Manisha Koirala

Review by Rupa Joshi (#939 21-17 December 2018)

She was just 19 when she starred in her first movie in Bollywood. As a fresh face from the mountains and with her enormous talent, Manisha Koirala shone in the Indian film industry in the 1990s, winning many prestigious awards. At one point in her busy career, she was doing a dozen movies a year, working exhausting 18-hour days. Fast forward to 2012 through a string of unsuccessful romances and films, a failed marriage, and alcoholism, Manisha came face to face with death.

Healed by Manisha Koirala

In 2012, she was diagnosed with last-stage ovarian cancer. How she dealt with the crisis and how she came out a survivor, extricating herself not just out of the clutches of the disease, but also the rut that her life had fallen into, is the dominant theme in her new book Healed.

Manisha’s tale meanders through the darkness of her feelings of fear, panic and pain and oscillates between glimmers of hope and shadows of hopelessness.  It is a book of self-discovery, where the author honestly and minutely analyses her own life, her decisions, her ‘toxic relationships’ and  mistakes. It combs through events and people that shaped her, and allowed her to overcome the disease.

The Beauty of Purposeful Living: Living Traditions of Nepal by Judith Conant Chase

The Beauty of Purposeful Living: Living Traditions of Nepal - Judith Conant Chase

Review by Kunda Dixit (#985 22-28 November 2019)

The voluminous 440-page, coffee table book is superbly illustrated and designed, and divided into sections representing the Himal, Midhills, Tarai and Kathmandu Valley. The text is arranged like extended captions, and interspersed with extracts from Chase’s journal of four decades ago. Chase decided to use her journal entries because the words recorded her feelings more accurately at the time, making the memories so much more real.

One such extract, after seeing a sadhu at Pashupati on Shivaratri: ‘I feel invigorated, intoxicated, inspired, as if being in love. There is a whole way of being in the world that I had only sensed dimly… There is a feeling of a secret that everyone else knows that I am just beginning to glimpse, frustrating and enticing together.’

Nepal Nexus - Sudheer Sharma

Review by Alisha Sijapati (#997 14-20 February 2020)

Nepal Nexus, the English translation and updated version of the 2013 bestseller Prayogshala by editor Sudheer Sharma, offers readers a vivid account of Nepal’s ten-year conflict, the 2006 people’s movement, the fragile transition that followed, to the Maoists’ subsequent rise to power. The English version was translated by Sanjaya Dhakal for Penguin India and released last year.

Nepal Nexus by Sudheer Sharma

         Sharma, who was and is once more the editor of Kantipur, begins with a personal account of his experience as a war reporter during the time of the state-Maoist conflict. Although he describes the book as an inside account of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the reader finds it more of an account of Prachanda’s rise to power, and only tangentially of the party he led.  Sharma has a soft corner for Prachanda, and does not conceal his sympathies for the erstwhile revolutionaries. ‘It is my view that the major credit for restructuring the state should go to the Maoists,’ may come across to many as giving too much credit to the CPN(M) for what was essentially a violent shortcut to power. To be fair, the journalist in Sharma tries to be objective and balance his views with those of others with explanations, experiences, and interviews.