Friday, September 12, 2008

Coming of age in Kathmandu. (Books - In the Land of No Right Angles by Daphne Beal)

What I am enjoying most about Daphne Beal's debut novel In the Land of No Right Angles is the setting. A young American woman, freshly graduated from college, decides to take photographs in Nepal and trek around this little known mountainous haven for the spiritually hungry. Before she leaves on a trek, her friend Will gives her an assignment:

"It'll take you an hour out of your way. Two, tops," he said as we looked out at the low slung, ancient city twinkling before us.

"Sure," I said. Two hours was nothing when you were talking about a two-and-a-half-week trek. Besides, the errand sounded interesting. He wanted me to find a girl he'd met the year before and give her a message. As it was, the purpose of my solo trek was not only to take pictures, but to say good-bye to the people in a remote, hardscrabble village called Jankat where I'd lived for a month in the winter, and it all seemed a little melancholy. I was pleased to add a more cheerful mission.
Of course it turns out to be more than two hours, or there wouldn't be a story. And it begins to rain and our heroine from Des Moines wonders to herself, if this wasn't one of Will's exercises for spiritual growth. She finally finds the house and the girl, or at least a girl who says it is she but there is reason to doubt it as she is desperate to escape her druken mother and violent father. And so the drama begins. The book is very much like the travel experience, in which the activities of the day - moving from site A to site B, buying fruit, finding a post office - necessitate learning about a new culture. Beal (who I know as she worked on a project of mine in Milwaukee in 1988) is adept at creating the kind of tension that keeps a reader interested but along the way one can learn about the traiditional dress of women in Nepal, the class-based rules of drinking alcohol, and that a gentle rain is called sim-simi in Nepali - like little beans. Her writing is straight forward, contemporary, and relaxed without being exactly breezy. It reminds me of Hemmingway in its lack of frou-frou, its getting-the-job-done-ness. I am looking forward to really getting into it a bit this weekend, between articles on multisensory processing and psychological testing. Got to keep this bare of frou-frou as well, I have a test this afternoon.

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