Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly
|Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A wonderful novel combining the tensions of a family reunion with those of the Nepali people in exile. As deeply enthralling as a story as it is an easily acquired and rewarding education.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: February 2014|
|Publisher: Quercus Publishing|
Chitralekha Guraamaa is preparing for her 84th birthday celebrations - her Chaurasi - and her grandchildren (or rather grandadults as they are now) arrive from around the world. They went away in search of a better life but better comes at a cost. Baghwati married beneath her caste, Manasa is resentful of an apparently helpless disabled father-in-law and Agastaya hides a man-sized secret. All have one thing in common: the dread of facing their manipulative, powerful grandmother and their inability to get on with each other. Worlds may collide but let the festivities commence!
Author Prajwal Parajuly comes from a Nepalese heritage, his father being Nepali Indian and his mother Nepali. This background comes with a richness of tradition but it also comes with problems and heartbreak. One of the reasons made the news globally: those who ran from the Chinese invasion of Tibet. But more fear ensued as the refugees then had to flee from Bhutan (just over the Tibetan border) having been driven out and in to India. Chitralekha and her family were some of these stateless people, eventually settling in Sikkim.
We learn more of this story from Baghwati who remembers the refugee camps and what lay beyond them; a driver in her decision to go to America, even if that meant a life of washing dishes.
She's not the only grandchild we meet and come to understand as Prajwal gathers the family, triggering unresolved resentment that has, until now, simmered under the surface. This isn't a dour Nepali version of East Enders though. There's so much to this making it a novel to read and re-read, including some smiles and out-and-out smirks.
The main culprits for making us giggle are Grandmother herself (a cantankerous woman, revelling and toying with her undoubted power) and the mischievous Prasanti.
Prasanti is a eunuch and the family servant, although only fulfilling the servant role to her own job description. She decides when she wants to work. If she doesn't like someone, they may find out or they may just suffer without knowing why or indeed the source of their suffering. Prasanti is also a great example of Prajwal's writing prowess.
We come to know her as an entertaining puckish presence but then, via a surprise guest, we hear about the eunuch's traditional position, how life chose this route for Prasanti and then…
On the way we not only absorb a lot of local colour, culture and customs, we also come to relish the delicious intricacies of local colloquialisms and how even the innocent sounding can actually be rather dirty. For instance you don’t want to tell a Nepali that anything he cares about is his 36! (Trust me – you just don't!)
As the generations come together personalities aren't the only things that clash. As Chitralekha tries to assert her customary matriarchal position, the grandchildren launch pre-emptive strikes, producing a feeling of lingering insecurity.
As you've probably already guessed, while we wallow in the layered luxuriance of Prajwal's story we'd be hard pushed to summarise it in a few words. Despite there being funny moments it's not a comedy. Its drama may be centred on a family but it's not 'kitchen sink'. There is poignancy but doesn't depress; any tragedy is tinged with a defiance and will to survive.
Perhaps we should stop trying to categorise it by what it's not and agree on what it is: an entertaining novel that will take pride of place on many a bookshelf not only for what it teaches us about the Nepali people but also humanity as whole.
Thank you Quercus Publishing for providing us with a copy for review.
Further reading: If, like me, you've fallen under Prajwal Parajuly's spell, why not try his equally excellent book of short stories The Gurkha's Daughter?
You can read more book reviews or buy Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly at Amazon.com.
Land Where I Flee by Prajwal Parajuly is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2014.
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