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Book Chat: Weaving a native tale

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Kathmandu, May 27, 2016: Book lovers now have Manjushree Thapa’s seventh work to look forward to. She recently launched her new novel, All of Us in Our Own Lives and there is a book reading scheduled for today. Being a relatively shy person, she confesses that publicity activities don’t come naturally to her. However, she says she is looking forward to seeing her new novel have a new life of its own.

All of Us in Our Own Lives delves into the cynical, monied world of international aid, and reflects on the recent events in Nepal, including the devastating earthquake of 2015 and the subsequent drafting of a new constitution. It is ultimately a story about human interconnectedness and the unexpected ways in which strangers come to relate to one another. We caught up with Thapa for a chat.

Your new novel includes all the recent upheavals Nepal has faced.  Why did you make the decision to include it?
It has always been my interest to set stories in a world that is recognizable to people in Nepal. I felt the earthquake and the political turmoil really underscored the theme that I was working on. I was talking about vulnerability, and this casualness with which life is devalued in Nepal. I had finished the novel in the month of the earthquake and I had one of the characters in the final chapters in Langtang. And of course, after the earthquake, the whole village got erased. Initially, I didn’t know what to do about it and then I felt it was wrong not to incorporate the recent developments. It helped add more layers of vulnerability to my story.

What about the political developments?
In fiction, politics is always going to be refracted through personal stories. In this story, politics is in the background, and not an actual part of the story. It isn’t a part of any character’s life until the constitution. I’d say this novel is more philosophical than political. It’s more about personal stories of the characters.

Was it difficult to gauge the vibe of the country and its people when you were staying abroad?
This is the second novel I have written while mostly living outside but, thankfully, I have a grounded network of friends, and communities that helped with the research. I traveled back to Nepal several times as well but I have to admit that I miss the day to day inspiration.

But there was also a drawback of working here in Nepal. It was hard to find enough solitude to write a big work. There is such a thick social scene and, also because of my own lack of self discipline, I got involved in many activities. So I found it quite hard to get away to write a novel. I really need solitude to imagine the world for my stories. I’m still working on striking that balance.

Are you keeping tabs of Nepal’s literary scene?
I try to keep track of it all. There are so many new works being released these days. I feel like the Nepali publishing scene has become a bit more organized and that is exciting. The writers seem to have more audience as well, so the scenario has definitely improved. The same goes for the English scene. There used to be some scattered individuals before, but now it has developed into a bit of a community.

What about the quality of writing?
If you read a classic, there is no denying that the work is simply incredible. As we entered the 90s, it became easier to write and publish which was great but then, I feel, we lost the editorial capacity. We sort of lost the ability to give writers feedback during that time period. But now things seem to be more organized and we seem to be regaining our footing again.

How has the outside world’s response been to your books based on Nepal?

Last month, there was an interesting story on how translated literature had found bigger sale than literature actually written in English in the UK. So right now people are getting a little bored of the usual stories and they are interested in the stories from the margins. So for somebody like me, who is from the margins, this is an interesting time. It is sort of a shifting landscape right now. There is something called global writing in English which is a new literary movement. I think I might have finally found where I fit.

On Thapa’s Bookshelf

Gahu Goro Asha
by Ahuti
This is a memoir that explains how somebody like Ahuti, who wasn’t born to a world of letters, became a poet. I’m reading this at the moment and it is just beautiful. He is among one of my favorite Nepali writers. It’s also the reason why I asked him to say a few words at my book release.

The Life and Times of Michael K
by J.M Coetzee
I count this Coetzee’s work as one of the books that has really influenced me. It is a portrait of the entire society through the lens of one man’s life. I find this book to be the perfect blend of the political and the personal. You may be reading about the life of the protagonist, but you get the entire sense of apartheid as well.

Old Woman
by Mahasweta Devi
She writes about the adivasi communities in Nepal. She isn’t from that community but she writes about them with such understanding, care, and responsibility that, for me, she has become a model of sorts. Personally, I hesitate to represent stories from other communities. My books don’t have janjati or dalit issues. I feel it’s not my space to write about them but, if somebody were to write these things, I feel Mahasweta Devi does it best.

The Enigma of Arrival
by V.S Naipal
This is a novel in which nothing happens. There is nothing but a description of a man who is moving into a new neighborhood. So it is bit of a magical book because even though there is no plot to it and nothing happens, you are riveted all the way through.

Tori Bari Bata Ra Sapana Haru
by Parijat
Everybody talks about Sirish Ko Phool but this is another one of her works that I’m absolutely in love with. The story is about a young woman in Darjeeling. She has finished her studies and her family wants her to get married. But she wants to travel a bit first. You could say it’s a road trip story with a brilliant spirit.