Rich Storytelling, Poor Representation?
What a great storyteller Samrat Upadhyay is! Upadhyay’s “Mad Country,” a collection of eight stories, depicts the lives the characters live, the dreams and dilemmas they oscillate between, and the local lingo they use. Upadhyay does a remarkable job introducing Nepali culture, politics, language, and people and places to the mainstream English language. His writing and stories display his charisma, talent, and boldness. He is a lucidly fine writer. However, many a times, Upadhyay, willy-nilly, disfigures the image of true Nepali society. In some of the stories, he does an excellent job of representing a truth, for example “America the Great Equalizer.” The story involves the characters from Nepal living in the USA and brings out the nitty-gritty of American life a Nepali student experiences, such as racial tension, unrequited love, and hypocrisy. However, in other stories that involve Nepali characters in Nepali land, Upadhyay frequently derails from representing a true picture of Nepali society in general.
In the collection, most of the stories are built based off of the characters who are divorcees, deviants, dreamers, psychopaths, and homosexuals. A strong example of this comes from mainly three different stories the book entails, i.e. “Fast Forward,” “Beggar Boy,” and “What Will Happen to the Sharma Family.” These stories cannot truly represent the Nepali society as such. Most of the stories Upadhyay weaves in come from upper class families, that too, of Kathmandu and tends to ignore the hillbilly. At times, it reads weird as if the author himself is torn between two cultures, therefore he seems incapable of making the story very reliable. It feels as if he is telling the story about foreign characters on Nepali soil. However, a lot of picturing and dreaming by the characters seems to balance the awkwardness out. Each single story has more or less a sex scene or its motive, or its clue, or some sort of love making scene—a flavor in the story, but that almost becomes a cliché. The stories at times become slightly confusing because some main characters frequently keep picturing and dreaming, but the reader can quickly catch the story’s thread.
To be honest, the reading is a joy. As a reader you cannot help turning the pages as you want to know what is next. For example, the story “What will happen to the Sharma family” is a fun-filled story. At times, the characters are weird, but you find it interesting as to how the characters develop as the story progresses. Again, Upadhayay is a great storyteller. However, at the end of each story, I felt some sort of insipidness, like much ado about nothing. Nonetheless, I found the story “America the Great Equalizer” very promising. The story has an open ending, hinging on some sort of epiphany, a kicker in journalistic sense.
Of course, the stories are entertaining! The dialogue is great, and the voice and his writing.
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