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Books

An immigrant's story

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Seasons of Flight By Manjushree Thapa Penguin 240 pages, Rs 399

Naples. Nippon. Nipple. There are many ways a Western ear hears the word Nepal. And Manjushree Thapa's main character Prema, a young Nepali woman, often finds herself pretending to be Indian, Mexican, Spanish, even from Indiana, to avoid the task of explaining her origins with a 'Where the Everest is' or 'Where Sherpas live' to earnest and interested Americans.

The ethnicity may vary, but migration is an experience every community can relate to - and authors have found it an endless source of stories for ages. Manjushree Thapa's Seasons of Flight offers an insight into the Nepali immigrant experience.

Thapa's novel revolves around Prema, a young woman who leaves Nepal, a country caught in the Maoist insurgency and the brutal counter-insurgency, and heads to Los Angeles, after winning a green card in a lottery. Her moves are never really planned, she just "progresses", as her father puts it, flitting from one point to the next. She leaves her village to go to college in Kathmandu, and by chance rather than design, studies forestry and ends up in a job in western Nepal. From there, it is chance that takes her to LA, and from being a waitress to a home care attendant for an elderly woman.

This sense of flight permeates the novel, as she leaves her village, her country and the insurgency, her ageing father and her sister who becomes a Maoist. Once in LA, she flees Little Nepal and her compatriots as quickly as she can, seeking to reach the real America - and find herself in the process. She moves in with three women, then out into the house of Luis, an American Guatemalan, who she eventually leaves, she's not really sure why. But she finds she can never really leave any of these people, places or experiences behind.

Certain sentences stay with you long after, though the book takes quite a while to pick up as Prema constantly questions and soul searches. Despite the fact that Thapa has created a character that boldly sets out on her own to seek a new and better life, Prema sometimes seems flat and one-dimensional, her rather stiff speech adding to the impression. It is rather strange that it takes someone who is always trying to reach the real America three years and the acquisition of an American lover to discover the weird and wonderful world of a mall. Just when she begins to gain character and real personality, the story comes to an end.

At the heart of the novel though is the ageold question of migration and the dilemma faced by those who leave home in search of opportunity and find themselves strangers in all worlds they seek to inhabit. Thapa delineates this predicament with sensitivity and sympathy, without ever commenting on or judging either Nepali or American society, their politics or way of life.
Seasons of Flight is an engaging novel, though not necessarily one you'll return to read, re-read and savour.

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