One of my favourite things to do when I go to the Lifeline Bookfair (or Book Lovers Lane) is to browse the international section and look for books from countries that I’ve never read literature from before. One of these times, I came across this book, and I had certainly never read anything from Nepal before. It is quite a short novel and perfect for my Short Stack Reading Challenge.
“Palpasa Café” by Narayan Wagle is a literary novel set in Nepal during the civil war. The novel opens with Narayan waiting to meet with his friend Drishya, who is the main character of his book, at a café. When Drishya doesn’t arrive, he finds out that he has been abducted by so-called security personnel. The story then begins in Chapter 1 from Drishya’s perspective. Drishya is a Nepalese artist who, while travelling in Goa, meets a mysterious and compelling young woman called Palpasa in who makes documentaries. When he returns to Nepal, he works in his studio in Kathmandu but cannot avoid the impact of the civil war. A visit from an old friend inspires him to visit the western hill villages where he grew up and see what Nepal is really like.
This is a great example of literary realism, taking it to the point where the author is himself a character in the novel writing a book about the protagonist. Drishya is a complex character who oscillates between overconfidence in his art and insecurity, and his journey back to his roots to understand his country and himself is transformative. The scenes in the hills are the most evocative and beautiful in the book. However, until Drishya reaches the western hill villages, the impact of the civil war is indirect and abstract. Wagle’s initial subtlety in exploring the effects of the conflict means that when it is finally experienced by Drishya face-on, it is even more significant to both Drishya and the reader.
You don’t need to be a historian to understand the emotional impact of war, but I did feel at times that I did not have the requisite knowledge to understand the different sides to the Nepalese civil war and the things that were driving the conflict. I think it’s a good reminder that while it’s really important to read widely and diversely, and many books have universal themes that speak to humanity generally, but that books are not always written for me as the audience and sometimes I need to do a bit more work to understand the nuance of what is going on.
A creative and authentic novel that explores many facets of Nepal throughout the civil war.
Illustrated fantasy book about a society with sentient dinosaurs
I absolutely love graphic novels and illustrated stories, but somehow I missed this book which came out when I was a young kid. I picked up a copy from the Lifeline Bookfair quite some time ago, and everyone I have mentioned it to has been full of happy nostalgia. When I was picking out books for last year’s Short Stack Reading Challenge, I added this one to the list and was thrilled to finally get a chance to read it.
“Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time” by James Gurney is an illustrated fantasy story about an explorer and biologist called Arthur Denison and his son William. Told as though Gurney has discovered a forgotten sketchbook, the story follows Arthur and William after they are washed ashore on a strange land when their ship sank at sea. They soon discover that the land is inhabited by both people and dinosaurs who coexist peacefully. Over time, Arthur and Will explore the new land and its inhabitants and adjust to their new life in Dinotopia.
This is a beautifully illustrated, whimsical book that was a delight from beginning to end. Arthur’s perspective as a naturalist was an inspired way to tell the story as the reader uncovers new facets of Dinotopia at the same time Arthur does. The story is told in the style of a journal with the text accompanied by exquisite paintings of Gurney’s imagined society. The detail is sublime with all kinds of imagined elements for how such a cooperative society might operate such as botany, technology, culture, sports, transport, architecture, written language, clothing and more. The human inhabitants of the world are descendants of castaways or recent castaways themselves, resulting in a very pluralistic and tolerant community.
Some may critique the lack of conflict in this book, which flows in an even pace along what I have previously described as a “where we went and what we did there” trajectory but honestly the writing was so lovely, the illustrations so quaint and the worldbuilding so novel that I was willing to forgive just about anything and enjoy the peaceful ride.
An absolutely lovely book full of wonder and beauty and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.
Young adult novel about teenagers who liberate baboons
I’m a bit behind with reviews (how is it already February?!) but this was on my Short Stack Reading Challenge list. This looks like it was another find from the Canberra Lifeline Book Fair (which is on this weekend for its 50th birthday and given the circumstances really needs everyone’s support). Anyway, my friend has been telling me I really need to read this author, so I was ready to give it a try.
“Papio” by Victor Kelleher is a young adult novel about David, a white Australian teenager, and Jem, an African-American teenager, who both live in Central Africa. David develops an affinity for the baboons kept at a nearby experimental research station, especially a large male called Papio and a female called Upi. When it becomes clear that the baboons are not going to leave the facility alive, David convinces Jem to help him break the baboons out and release them to the wild. However, the baboons struggle to survive in the wild and have not yet found a troop to join. When David and Jem stay longer and longer, it becomes clear that there is more at stake than Papio and Upi’s survival in the wild. Soon, all their lives are at stake.
This was an intense and realistic book that explores the limits of what it takes to survive in the wilderness. Kelleher doesn’t shy from the grittier details like hunger and illness, and the gradual acceptance of the group with a troop of baboons was one of the most interesting parts of the book. I really enjoyed the exploration of baboon behaviour. Certainly I had always had this idea that they are quite an aggressive species, but this book really showed me another side to baboons and the different ways they interact with humans and the encroachment on their habitat.
I think the part I had difficulty with was the thought processes of David and Jem. I couldn’t quite understand why Jem so easily went along with David’s plans, especially when it became clear he had concealed a lot from her. I also couldn’t quite understand how they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see the anger they had brought upon the baboons, and that especially towards the end, their actions were leading everyone to disaster.