Monday, September 6, 2010

Buddha's Orphans


I looked forward to reading Samrat Upadhyay's sophomore novel, Buddha's Orphans. His first novel, The Guru of Love was one of my favorite books when it came out in 2003. He has also published two collections of short stories: Arresting God in Kathmandu in 2001 and The Royal Ghosts in 2006 but I am not a fan of that form so I passed on those and complained that they were not novels.

Buddha's Orphans follows a pair of lovers through four generations of unsettling, chaotic Nepalese history. Abandoned as a baby, Raja's young life is a pillar to post affair taking him in short time through 3 separate families each in desperate straits from either economic or psychological disturbances. Early in his life Raja meets his one true love, Nilu. Despite an alcoholic parent, Nilu's life is idyllic compared to Raja's struggles for security. Nilu's family is stable and comfortable enough to assure her a measure of happiness in life. It's not giving anything away to let you know that the two marry. After that? Read it and find out for yourself.

There is no doubt that Upadhyay is a gifted novelist. In Orphans he takes you from the simplest tranquil moments to heartbreaking personal and political upheaval in a few quick words. There are a couple plot coincidences that make the story move along neatly but those are minor quibbles. The exotic locations and culture (for this American reader) have an effulgence even when they are hostile to the characters that makes me want to read more of Upadhyay's writing---but still not his short stories, sorry. However this novel isn't just a mishmash of it happens everywhere story line inserted into a unique location. Buddaha's Orphans is a life and family affirming story beautifully told.


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