Nepal-born Manjushree Thapa, herself a peripatetic hybrid of East and West with an American education and Canadian ties, is one of a handful of Nepali authors successfully writing in English. This, her latest novel (and only her second in her almost two-decade writing history with seven titles thus far), is not yet published in the U.S., although thanks to our global economy, it’s readily available through various virtual outlets. While the book itself has not yet officially landed with a U.S. press, Flight – ironically – is essentially an immigration story, enhanced with resonating layers of political and socioeconomic history.
“Why were Americans so light of spirit?” Prema, a young woman from Nepal, asks herself again and again. Having survived her war-torn, unstable homeland where loved ones die and disappear, Prema’s adjustment to her new life in Los Angeles is a wholly different kind of challenge.
Trained in forestry – in things that might change with the seasons, but are ultimately rooted – Prema’s life in her native hill village is not enough to keep her grounded: her mother died in childbirth when Prema was 8, that younger sister who survived went missing years ago to join the rebel Maoists, her father is little more than a kind voice on a public telephone, her lover is as noncommittal as Prema herself. When she is granted a U.S. green card via lottery, she readily flees toward a chance for a “life in a richer land [that] was more – proper, solid.”
But in the multi-ethnic metropolis that is Los Angeles, Prema finds herself repeatedly trying to explain that she is not Indian, and she doesn’t speak Spanish because she is not Mexican/Italian/Spanish, that ‘Nepal’ is not the same as Nippon nor does it sound like ‘nipple’ and surely it has no relation to Naples or pasta. Untethered, Prema eschews relationships with fellow Nepali emigres, and cuts off contact with her waiting father and unattached lover. She moves in with total strangers, cares for a wealthy elderly widow most days, and finds herself alone most nights … until she meets Luis, who becomes her tenuous connection to a firmer, more grounded American life, at least for a while. But reinvention, even thousands of miles away, requires more than physical distance.
In a poignant twist, Thapa subtly compares the two sisters’ lives – eight years and countries apart. As spare as those passages are, their markedly diverging circumstances and experiences speak volumes, giving this not-so-simple immigration story keen insight into the cost of leaving, and the price for going back.
Published: 2010 (India, United Kingdom)