Posted by: biblioglobal | July 22, 2014

Nepal: The Tutor of History (Book-from-every-country #57)

Personally, I think this cover is overly ominous for the tone of the book.

I love to get book recommendations from people who know a country better than I do. The Tutor of History by Manjushree Thapa was the recommendation of Elen at southasiabookblog who lives in Kathmandu and said that this book helped her understand what was going on with Nepali politics.

It’s very much a book about politics, and also a book about the lives of a number of people in Khaireni Tar, a small town. All of the main characters are connected in one way or the other with a small political party trying to get just a few seats in the national parliament. Khaireni Tar is one of their best hopes because their candidate is famous film star.

The Tutor of History was published in 2001 and set in the late 1990s. Nepal had only been holding elections since 1990, so democracy was very new. The book did a good job illustrating the challenges and opportunities. Since the book was written, the monarchy dissolved parliament and then parliament/the Maoists dissolved the monarchy and I don’t really understand what happened. Trying to figure that out and parse out all the political acronyms makes me understand why The Tutor of History might be so valuable for understanding Nepali politics.

The title actually refers to a character who is a history tutor, which amuses me. How much grander of a title The Tutor of History is than The History Tutor would be. Even though he’s the title character, the history tutor doesn’t play the role of a main character. The book is more of an ensemble piece, following the lives of some half a dozen major characters and several more minor ones. The ensemble illustrates what life is like in the small town of Khaireni Tar.

Khaireni Tar is a place big enough that you don’t know everyone, but small enough that you’ll probably see someone you know anywhere you go. The latter means that social reputation plays a huge role in people’s lives, leading to a strong influence of traditional values. Some people in town are starting to push back a bit against tradition though. There are a few more opportunities here than in smaller villages, but it is by no means the big city where people go to find their fortune. The individual characters were well enough developed that I ended up caring about most of them (although I never really warmed to the history tutor himself), but it is the life of the town as a whole that I think will be most memorable to me.

Reading this book corrected some of my misconceptions about Nepal. I had somehow always lumped Nepal together in my head with Bhutan and Tibet- mountainous places where Buddhism is dominant. It turns out that Nepal is actually a predominantly Hindu country (though many people mix Hindu and Buddhist practices) and many aspects of Tutor of History reminded me of India.

Something I really enjoyed about The Tutor of History, actually, was the feeling that I had some inside knowledge, based on my (albeit limited) knowledge of India. I recognized Indian English terms like ‘cousin sister’ that completely confused me when I first hear someone use them. “Wait, wouldn’t your cousin’s sister just be your cousin?” (Turns out it just means female cousin.) I even recognized some Nepali words as cognates of another language in the Hindi language family.  These things were all small details and its not that they would create a problem understanding the book if you didn’t recognize. Just that I felt pleased when I did recognize something that I wouldn’t have a few years ago.

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Responses

  1. This book was a disappointment for me 😦

    • That’s too bad. What didn’t you like about it?

      • The way the story developed, I guess. Couldn’t relate to it at all .

  2. Great review, glad I inspired you to read this 🙂 I love Manjushree Thapa’s work, especially her non-fiction, so glad that you took this one on.

    • I’m glad you recommended it! I’d definitely like to read some of her non-fiction at some point as well.

  3. I’m glad you mentioned that about the cover. It was a little off putting, but sounds like an enlightening (was going to say educational, but sounds too formal) read!

    • I put up this cover because it was the one on my copy of the book. There is another cover out there that I think is much less ominous looking and more reflective of the spirit of the book.

      • I do the same thing – I like to have the one I read specifically!

  4. I’ve already read a book from Nepal or else I would have considered this. It sounds just the kind of book I would like to read from a country. It’s going to be on my list though.

    • It looks like you found a good Nepali book also. This one can be a little bit depressing, but is not terribly dark overall.

  5. What an eye-opening sort of book. I already feel more knowledgeable about Nepal than I did before reading your post!

    • Wow, I’m glad I could make you feel more knowledgeable!

  6. I love that country…must read this one!!

    • If you do, I’ll look forward to hearing what you think.

  7. I just found your excellent blog, and thought I would offer a couple of suggestions from smaller countries.
    Albania: Ismail Kadare, Twilight of the Eastern Gods
    Estonia: Jaan Kroos, The Conspiracy and Other Stories
    Ukraine: Andrey Kurkov, Death and the Penguin
    I lived in Ukraine for a year, and spent time lecturing in Estonia. Kurkov and Kroos are excellent (maybe obvious) reps for their countries, and for anyone who has spent time in post-Soviet countries, Kadare’s account of two years in Moscow evokes an eerily familiar world. Go luck and keep it up!

    • Thanks for the suggestions! Death and the Penguin is one I was considering for Ukraine, so I’m glad to hear that it is a good choice. The title and the topic just seemed too intrguing to pass over!

      I have a book on my shelf for Estonia- Petty God by Kaur Kender. Are you familiar with that one?

      • I don’t know Kender, so I’d be interested in hearing what you think about it. Keep traveling!

  8. Hindu. I’m not sure I knew that. Sounds like I need to read the book.

    • Glad I’m not the only one who was surprised!

  9. […] Tutor of History by Manjushree Thapa (Nepal)- It turns out I had many misconceptions about the country of […]


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