Which was the one for you? The Reason?
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‘Poetry is like pooping. If it is in you it will come out’, said a young American poetess to an adulatory Nepalese audience at American embassy here a few years ago. A graduate of creative writing from an American university, she was promoting the course here among the wannabe Nepalese youth with some cash in their pockets. She was wearing a low cut blouse and a skirt. Her words ring often in my ears and make me shiver.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with books that cross genres. The best historical novels are as much history as fiction. However, it is a golden rule that a book must know who and what it is. One of the problems with The Royal Enigma is that it suffers from a serious identity crisis.
Is it meant to be a history? If so, of what? Nepal? India? The relationship between the two? The impact of colonialism on the wider region?
Or is it meant to be a novel… the personal story of Nawin, who crops up for whole chapters at a time. Sometimes, living out his life, at others merely as a cipher to be used to have a conversation with someone of an opposing viewing point.
Or is it a polemic against the changing world?
From the title I expected some kind of analysis of the role of royalty in Nepal, or maybe a biography of one or more of the Royal family. In the event, I’m afraid it doesn’t really work on any front.
I really struggled with this book from start to finish. In general I applaud the advent of e-publishing to the extent that it allows good works by unknown authors to reach a public willing to give them a chance. However, there are also times when I do feel that the ability to put out a book quickly and relatively easily is just too tempting. Books reach the world ill-prepared. Try as I might to be positive, this is a case in point.
The Royal Enigma needs three things: a proper sense of direction, a serious edit and a translator with a better grasp of English.
As it stands, it is a number of barely related strands that aren’t tied together in any cohesive fashion. There is detail in here and it could be put to good use, but as a whole, it simply fails.
Trying to extricate the various strands, let’s start where the book starts with Nawin’s story. We meet him as a child, at election time, when the children are more excited by the flags and balloons than their parents are by the politicians’ speeches. We meet his family and gain some insight into the local life… and then there is a tragedy. And life moves on. Death and new birth and more problems. None of this is explored in sufficient depth for the characters to be ‘real’. Events happen. Then more events happen. And sometimes we are told how some people feel about it… but mostly we’re not, and we never get to spend enough time sharing those reactions to ‘feel’ anything ourselves in response.
Then suddenly we’re into a we’re into Operation Blue Star (whatever that was) and a hopscotch backwards and forwards through Indian history: Indira Ghandi’s return to power, the previous State of Emergency, asides into the political state of play in Pakistan, in Punjab and elsewhere and so ultimately to Indira’s death which (albeit briefly) brings us back to Nawin and his student friends.
Without anything of interest to disturb us having happened in the meantime Nawin has graduated and found himself unable to find work in India and so (being a Nepali citizen – possibly the first we’ve learnt of that) he heads over the border, where he decides to take part in the national games. Cue an essay on the behaviour of royalty and officialdom during the games: Nawin’s own experience is nailed in five sentences.
And so it goes on. Somewhere along the line our hero gets married… or at least turns out to have got married – there’s no meeting or love affair or wedding. I’m not even sure the poor woman gets a name.
The shame of it all is: there is a plot here. It needs a lot more work, but there is a story lurking in the background. All of the historical research that has simply been dumped on the page needs to be ditched well away from it. Aspects of it should be allowed to seep in, subtly, rarely, purely as background colour. The plot needs to be taken apart and set out as a simple time-line – with the gaps then filled in. If Nawin is good enough to play at the national games, let us see him learning the sport, give us a game or two, allow us to watch him develop. Develop all of the key characters. Give them names and backstories and characteristics…. But again only allow in as much of that as drives Nawin’s story.
That will provide the ingredients, which then those ingredients need to be built into the drama by allowing us to see how and why our protagonist does what he does, in a single flow. We need to engage with the characters to be able to feel for them, they need to be ‘real’.
Then finally, if the book is to succeed in English, it does need work on the use of the language. Quirky phraseology in translations can work. Particularly with some of the Asiatic languages, it can be used to capture the particular rhythm and way of speaking that exists in those languages which is so different to the western inflexions. To begin with, that was what I felt I was in for, and I was reasonably happy with it, but as the book progresses the constructions worsen.
Sometimes it is the choice of words that is simply wrong in the rural often being used for in the countryside. The king was coroneted rather than crowned. This doesn’t hinder meaning, but jars and interrupts flow. At other times (presumably technical) expressions are used with an assumption that the reader will understand them Every winter people in the country faced load shedding half the time, as the rivers dried up after the monsoons and the power generation plummeted. I am guessing that we’re talking about power cuts (or power outages for the US audience) but I’m not sure.
These sound like small criticisms but they occur so frequently that they become a major distraction. To talk of a newspaper’s English translation as being so crude that it reported the sound of firing by Dipendra as Rat-Rat-Rat… but then in the very next paragraph speak of someone chocking with laughter does kind of undermine one’s own argument.
In other places I got so lost that I had literally no idea what was being grasped at.
I would love to be kind about this book, but my first duty as a reviewer is to be honest – and I am afraid that this is not so much a book as a ‘first draft’. It needs a lot more work.
Summary: Some interesting ideas and the making of a good story lie behind this book, but I can’t genuinely recommend it as it stands. More work on the ideas could produce something really worth reading.
It seems this reviewer or columnist is so at peace wit the literary world that he is almost a pacifist. And he thinks his laziness or lack of competence or knowledge in literary matters is that of everyone in The USA or elsewhere.
This kind of complacency you expect from a magazine feature-writer, which has become so venerated that no one is surprised by its content recently and so has ceased to care what it publishes.
Even a casual look at literary forums is enough to discover how thriving a place it is to be.
If you consider Goodreads as one, I can assure you it has trashed more NY bestsellers than any other forums. Almost all the popular books of Vampire fiction, mommy porn or young adult genres have been obliterated to pieces for their not being a true literature.
So ignorance is not a bliss. Reading public is more critical than many think, and it is reading more diversely than ever. The Hatchet was never buried. Readers are out there to skin the feable writers or critics in the literary world.
Mugabe was opposite of Mandela. Mandela allowed the colonials to control the wealth and resources of the country, while the natives had their freedom. Also he made some humiliating compromises in TRC, which allowed the most heinous crimes of the apartheid regime go unacknowledged. For it he won the Nobel and other accolades. Mugabe did the opposite. He snatched the wealth and resources from the colonials and distributed them among natives. Recently, it became public that he gets only four thousand dollars a month as salary and has no account in a Swiss bank. He rightly said that he deserves the Nobel prize. The academic world can not ignore Mugabe for long. The way he survived the protracted economic sanctions will be a subject of research. Also, many former colonies should take a leaf out of his book. To learn how to become truly independent. Any University worth its name must hurry to honour him.
The post colonial history of Zimbabwe is unlike any other country. This unique experiment of doing away with colonial institutions and replacing them with indigenous should be studies closely. For it the Zimbabwean should be proud of their country and its leader. Having a dispassionate debate about this nation is almost impossible as the economic sanctions making life of the country arduous. Mugabe survived all it. So he is no common leader. As I said, in the times ahead it will become more obvious.
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