A hostage situation
Greta Rana’s Hostage follows a simple Tharu man, Hari Prasad Mahato, in his journey for work in the Gulf. It is fiction, but might as well be fact – as we speak, these stories are happening to thousands of Nepali migrant workers.
Hari is a boatman on the Rapti River, but yearns for a future in Qatar so he can earn enough money to redeem his debt to the landlord, and pay for his children’s school fees. We are introduced to Siva Bahadur, a young Maoist and his story provides a backdrop of the insurgency to the book. Again, Siva's story was repeated many thousands of times during Nepal’s ten-year war. Multiple plot twists lead Siva to the Gulf as well, where Hari and Siva end up as roommates. Siva was a young, boisterous young man whose loquacity often annoyed Hari, who was focused on his goal of saving enough.
Three years pass by in one sentence, and one would have expected the author to dwell a little more on Siva and Hari's relationship after the energy she puts into developing both individual characters in the beginning.
Greta Rana employs an informal tone throughout the book, and lets the characters’ thoughts and feelings propound the social injustices that drove them away from Nepal. Frustration about corruption and exploitation burst through the pages, as characters dream of a better future for themselves, their families and the nation – all amidst the background of the dispiriting and unjust reality of home. The story line delves into the political ideologies of communism and extremism, and how individuals seek redress to inequality and discrimination.
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Despite the strong plot and grim backdrop, the narration is passive, missing the passion that should be there to add depth and texture to the story. Crucial events like Hari’s first job and his relationship with Siva are described to us, rather than letting the protagonists show us through their actions. Like all discussion on ideology, the paragraphs go on a bit and seem detached from the characters’ experiences. The climax is frightening, but we do not quite get to the fears, terrors and significant tensions which arise.
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The diversity of characters, however, is well-developed. Even though Hari and Siva’s disconnect makes us wonder if their two stories had to be told in the same narrative, the counterpoint between a simple Tharu villager to a Maoist rebel, corrupt Nepali politicians and Arabian lawyers keeps the story taut.
The women are especially strong: Hari’s soft-spoken wife Jamuna, his intelligent and hard-working daughter Subhadra, or the politically progressive and astute Anjeli, Greta Rana’s women demonstrate strength as well as wisdom.
Hari Prasad’s trajectory does depart from the general experience of most Nepali migrant workers -- especially with the twist in the climax that gives Hostage a distinct fictional flavour. To readers familiar with the contemporary exodus of young Nepalis, Hostage reinforces familiar tales of injustice that drive them away and is a one-sit read that could be a modern English version of Lil Bahadur Chhetri’s Nepali classic, Basain.