Debut volume of diverting if sometimes lukewarm tales about contemporary Nepalese men and women adapting to the ethos of the West while bearing (and sometimes suffering) the cultural expectations of their native land.
Born and raised in Nepal, Upadhyay came to the US at 22, which is about the age of many of his young people, all of them struggling with their native past while trying to make an American future. The collection progresses from settings entirely in Nepal to those that include characters affiliated with both America and Nepal. In the opener, “The Good Shopkeeper,” a young accountant is fired from his job and abandons his conventional life for the very American pursuit of happiness, which here includes therapeutic sex with a local housemaid. “Deepak Misra’s Secretary” concerns a young businessman who is abandoned by his Westernized wife but finds comfort in the austere personality of his severe secretary, with whom he has variably interesting sex. In “During the Festival,” a young husband is persuaded that his beautiful wife is having an affair with a neighbor, a man who must suddenly come to terms with his own mother: a Freudian tale told from an a-Freudian-Nepalese perspective. In one of the strongest pieces here, young Kanti—on the brink of earning her Ph.D. from Duke University—finds herself deeply attracted to the unreliable Jaya, who inevitable cheats on her. When approached by the stolid, English-educated, and refined Prakash, a physician who has recently opened a local clinic in Nepal, she endures the ancient tug-of-war between prudence and passion. Ultimately, she opts to return to the States to complete her education and hope for the best.
Not especially original in theme, but Upadhyay’s flinty, oddly proper style is attractive and succeeds in bringing life to these otherwise unpromising (and often seemingly misogynistic) scenarios.