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Buddha's Orphans

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Review of Samrat Upadhyay's Buddha's Orphans


There are not many book reviews for Samrat Upadhyay's new book Buddha's Orphans. His four books have garnered a fair amount of interest, but as a relatively new writer of ten years the scholarship is just developing. Time will tell how his books stand up to the test of time. For now, though, it is a pleasure to see his developing artistic talent and be introduced to the people of Kathmandu, Nepal. I offer a few passages from this novel for a sampling of his writing. The passages show how skillfully he makes characters through the use of vivid details that evokes character's feelings and thoughts. His understated style, with his conciseness often evokes poignant moments that linger with the reader. Revealing the paradoxes of life through his characters shows both his compassion and skill at probing human motivation.

Selected passages from Buddha’s Orphans:

Ganga Da’s reflective moment about his wife:
p. 68-69  “It was incredible to Ganga Da that despite all that Jamuna had put him through, when he looked at her in sleep, a feeling of intolerable compassion rose in him.”

After eloping to be married by the priest, “Shortcut Bajé,” at the Guheswori Temple, married Nilu’s and Raja’s mood is captured:
p. 157  “The anticipation of their new life together, the mild anxiety over the looming confrontation with their families, had made them hungry, and they attacked the meat – it had turned a bit spongy – with gusto, their fingers scraping the inside of the cooker as they scooped up the gravy.”

Nilu’s response to death of son Maitreya:
p. 228  “Neglecting her shopping, she wandered aimlessly through the city, berating herself for being so mired in grief over her son that she was beginning to see him in open daylight.  Her dreams about Maitreya were so frightening that she woke up yelling.  Earlier, when Raja was still with her, he’d turn on the light and ask what the matter was, and she’d cling to him, shaking.”

Nilu’s  response to Kaki’s death of the “mother” who Kaki had rejected:
p. 253-254  “The next morning she left the house a bit early and went all the way to the Swayambhunath Temple, where, with the help of a priest, she lit a thousand wicker lamps in Kaki’s memory.
   “She’s one of your children, Lord Buddha,” Nilu prayed, as she watched the flames flicker in the wind.  “She embodied your teaching of compassion – she gave herself completely to raise an orphan boy.  Yet she died thirsting for his love.  Please grant her peace.”

One of the  highpoints of novel – marriage and meeting temporary partners:
p. 293-294:
“Then she couldn’t help but be amused at her own anxious attempts to render as normal what was ultimately absurd: the husband, his lover, the wife, and her friend all coming together for some chia and biscuits and music, sung by the husband’s lover – and all of this in a country where even widows and abandoned wives dare not express any longing for men. It increasingly felt like a scene out of an awful movie.  Any moment now, she thought, something terrible is going to happen…”


See the sample book reviews for further comments on this book. The details of Upadhyay's writing bring us to the neighborhoods and certainly into the lives of our main characters Raja and Nilu.

Reviews to consider:

Buddha's Orphans Library Thing
Layers of Thought Eclectic blog
Book Review: New York Times


This site was created by Gerard Wollak at the NEH Summer Institute "Literatures, Religions, and Arts of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2011.