Realistic tales of eternal feelings

Book Review published in Today’s Republica Daily

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Written over three decades, and sharing stories of times back till today, “Chapters” is a collection of 19 succinct, realistic and abstract stories by Amod Bhattarai. The stories, originally written in Nepali in different magazines over the years, have been compiled in a book, and translated by Prawin Adhikari.

Through his stories, Bhattarai has tried to give his readers different life experiences of individuals across the world exceeding topographical boundaries. Through his narratives, the author takes his readers back in time or to distant lands to peek into the lives of a variety of people. The book begins with an emotional account of a Nepali man entitled “The Embers That Remained” written in 1999, and ends his latest equally powerful story “And This Is Not A Story.”

Every story in the book has a sketch by Yogesh Khapangi, giving a luminous look to the book.

The stories are brief and realistic with painful accounts of love, sex, war, volunteerism, family, politics and some mundane experiences of our daily lives that are often ignored. Though some stories read like travel essays, most are successful in evoking sentiments of the readers.

Most of the stories in the book are fiction based on non-fiction, which is the author’s distinct style of writing and telling the stories. The stories don’t belong to Nepal alone; through his stories, the readers travel around the world. This is one of the interesting aspects of the book.

The author seems to depict distant lands and their surroundings where he takes the readers through his imagination. Diverse characters inhabit the world of the 19 different chapters in the book. The author has sketched much of characters in the book effectively in such a way that they seem real. They are varied and stronger in their actions, so readers can feel that the characters are somewhere in the real world living real lives.

For instance, the first story, “The Embers that Remained,” tells a story of a Russia-returned Nepali man who had abandoned his Russian love and daughter years before due to social obligations and is still unable to accept them.

Similarly, another story titled “A Rude Awakening” describes a Nepali family that is about to ruin itself because of their extravagant lifestyle. The overspending nature of the members, poor handling of relationships and eventual ruination of their property form the core of the story.

As we move on, the book has stories of war in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Japan, and Germany; and there are stories about volunteerism and diplomatic missions. A reader can feel that he is traveling to various places, meeting people at different jobs, different social strata and learning about how they feel, and the lifestyles and the hardships they went through.

The Afghani character who hides his age due to war in the country in the story “A Land of Shadows” gives a painful account of a country plagued by war and the consequences faced by the people of the country. Likewise, three different volunteers in the story “Circumstances” rescue prisoners of war through their diplomatic mission, and it is one of the outstanding pieces in the book.

Another story of a German couple who treat young Nepali men to drinks commemorating the birthdays of their four sons who died in World War II gives sad glimpses of war and human feelings. Likewise, the story of a Nepali man’s coincidental meeting with an alien who is in search of Shangri-La is a different story as it is the only science fiction in the book. This addition of science fiction in the book has made the collection more distinct.

One of the fascinating stories in the book is “The Button” which is also the author’s first published story. It is very simple yet a powerful one. The story ends with the major character going insane and shouting.

Some stories are bit political, such as “Off-Stage” and “When It Hurts To Laugh.” These stories may be difficult to comprehend and require a reader to be acquainted with the political history of the times depicted.

The book ends with a wonderful story entitled “And, This is Not a Story” which tells a different kind of relation between a man and a woman 15 years younger than him.

However, a few characters in the stories have not been fully dwelled upon, which makes some stories mere imperative essays or like the author’s personal accounts while he traveled. For example, in the story “The Story of Story,” the major character demands a lot more characterization as the protagonist seems weak in the story while its plot demands a strong and much powerful character. Some stories are too short, that they don’t give what the readers expect. Moreover, some stories lack space, it is not described that much which just gives glimpses of the place but not detailed accounts which a reader may want to read.

In conclusion, Bhattarai’s short story collection has realistic tales of eternal feelings and emotions of different people from various social and political backgrounds. Though the stories were written over a long period of time, their relevance to contemporary times makes the collection worthy of reading.

The translation of the Nepali stories into English also has made the beautiful collection accessible even to English readers.

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