Jaggery Lit Book Review

Martin David Hughes

Novelist Shobhan Bantwal recently reviewed Jaya Nepal! for the wonderful Jaggery Lit website. Jaggery is a traditional cane sugar consumed in South Asia. According to the Jaggery Lit website, jaggery has many different functions in South Asian society:

In rural Maharashtra and Karnataka, water and a piece of jaggery are given when someone comes home from working under a hot sun. All over India, jaggery has religious significance; many festivals involve the offering of jaggery to deities during worship. Jaggery is considered auspicious in many parts of South Asia, and is eaten raw before the commencement of good work or any important new venture, or after good news is shared by family and friends.

The sworn goal of Jaggery Lit is to

offer a path of connection between diaspora writers and homeland writers; we also welcome non-South Asians with a deep and thoughtful connection to South Asian countries, who bring their own intersecting perspectives to the conversation. Our hope with Jaggery is to create a journal that offers the best writing by and about South Asians and their diaspora.

With that in mind, I must say that I’m deeply honored and humbled that Jaya Nepal! was reviewed on this thoughtful and important site devoted to South Asian literature.

Bantwal begins her review with a synopsis of the novel and then states that

Many of the protagonist’s weird experiences on Indian streets and slums are reminiscent of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

Any comparison to Roberts’ Shantaram is a huge compliment! Strange things (both wonderful and awful) happen in South Asia, and I think they deserve to be mentioned, primarily because it gives people who haven’t yet visited the subcontinent a glimpse into the uniqueness of life and living in this part of the world.

Bantwal continues

Overall, besides telling a tale of complicated relationships, Jaya Nepal! is a touching tribute to the gentle and welcoming spirit of the Nepalese people, their enduring strength in the face of poverty and hardship, and above all their generosity to strangers. Through Creed’s young and naive eyes we see a side of Nepal that tourists seldom get to experience. We also learn about the workings of the Peace Corps, the energy, the hunger for exploration, and the dedication of its young volunteers. The author has clearly traveled extensively in Nepal, and seems familiar with its geography, demographics, and to a large degree its distinctive culture.

Jaya Nepal! really is a tribute to the Nepali people, and I’m glad this came across in the novel. Bantwal concludes her review by saying

The descriptions of urban Kathmandu as well as the Himalayan vistas are vivid, inspiring, and well worth reading. Hughes is a gifted storyteller […] this book is a very enjoyable and informative read, especially since it delves deeply into native Nepali culture and the many issues facing contemporary Nepal.

Many thanks to Shobhan Bantwal and Jaggery Lit for the kind and thoughtful review of Jaya Nepal!