Following long days of happy traipsing through the Himalayas, these are the books I curled up with in my sleeping bag at night:
Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan
My rating: 4/5
Editor’s Blurb: In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan traded his day job for a year-long trip around the globe, a journey that began with a three-month stint volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in war-torn Nepal.
Conor was initially reluctant to volunteer, unsure whether he had the proper skill, or enough passion, to get involved in a developing country in the middle of a civil war. But he was soon overcome by the herd of rambunctious, resilient children who would challenge and reward him in a way that he had never imagined. When Conor learned the unthinkable truth about their situation, he was stunned: The children were not orphans at all. Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children from the civil war–for a huge fee–by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
For Conor, what began as a footloose adventure becomes a commitment to reunite the children he had grown to love with their families, but this would be no small task. He would risk his life on a journey through the legendary mountains of Nepal, facing the dangers of a bloody civil war and a debilitating injury. Waiting for Conor back in Kathmandu, and hopeful he would make it out before being trapped in by snow, was the woman who would eventually become his wife and share his life’s work.
From Goddess to Mortal by Rashmila Shakya
My rating: 2/5. Very interesting but repetitive and poorly told.
Autobiography of the author who was worshipped as a living goddess from 1984-1991, in Nepal.
Following Whispers: Walking on the Rooftop of the World in Nepal’s Himalayas by Dan Thompson
My rating: 0/5 Painful!!! Truly awful!
Editor’s Blurb: In 2007 Dan Thompson, an Iraq War veteran turned magazine editor, accepted an unexpected invitation from a family friend to visit Nepal. The opportunity to realize a boyhood dream first inspired on the pages of National Geographic becomes reality when he and his wife Nora arrive in Kathmandu comically over-prepared. Despite his military and travel experience, the out-of-shape traveler finds himself disoriented and dependent on the kindness of complete strangers, including two young men who guide him along the famous Annapurna Circuit. Together, they explore holy temples high in the Himalayas, compete with donkey trains for precious space along the world’s deepest ravine, and save a woman from the brink of death. Along the way, they meet emaciated medicine men, colorful grandmas on pilgrimage, and an unfortunate series of frostbitten and aloof western tourists like refugees among the peaks.
From laugh-out-loud misadventures with a parasite, to insightful discussions about Nepal’s future, Thompson weaves themes of globalization, religion, development aid, and friendship into what is part adventure story, and part coming to terms with post-Iraq War life. In the end, he finds the answers to questions he has been searching for all along while following the beckoning whispers of his heart.
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Read by Finty Williams. Audible.co.uk
My rating: 5/5 I really loved this. Beautifully read, it carried me through the Thorung High Pass.
Editor’s Blurb: Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius’. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
Sold by Patricia McCormick
My rating: 3/5
Editor’s blurb: Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.
He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.
An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt—then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave.
Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph—and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision—will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life?
Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 1/5. Simplistic and obvious with a teeth-grindingly annoying protagonist
Editor’s blurb: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
Apologize! Apologize! by Elizabeth Kelly
My rating: 4/5.
Editor’s blurb: APOLOGIZE, APOLOGIZE! takes us into the perversely charmed world of the Flanagans and their son, Collie (who has the questionable good fortune to be named after a breed of dog). Coming of age on Martha’s Vineyard, he struggles to find his place within his wildly wealthy, hyper-articulate, resolutely crazy Irish-Catholic family: a philandering father, incorrigible brother, pigeon-racing uncle, radical activist mother, and domineering media mogul grandfather (accused of being a murderer by Collie’s mother). It is a world where chaos is exhilaratingly constant, where money is of no object. And yet it is a world where the things Collie wants-understanding, stability, a sense of belonging-cannot be bought for any price. Through his travails, we realize what it really means to grow up and also to grow into one’s family: finding to find ways to see them anew, to forgive them, and to be forgiven in turn.
In prose that is lively, humorous, and brilliant throughout, Elizabeth Kelly gives us the dysfunctional-family novel to end all dysfunctional-family novels, finding the comedy and pathos in her characters’ struggles, and showing beautifully how a family’s love can be as trying as it is true.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
My rating: 4/5
Editor’s blurb: In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai’s brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world
Harry Potter Boxset (1-7) by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5/5. It says it all that I’m rereading these again: comfort reading in the Himalayan cold!