“The Great American Dream” still counts for some, though the dystopian realities of the post-Vietnam War have rendered the notion meaningless. To migrants moving west from the Third World and Asian countries, America continues to be a much-coveted paradise, though all that happens there is quite predictable and appalling. For a few bucks, all value systems and dignities are dumped into the dickey of a wagon that carries goods to the customer’s doorsteps and moves trampling real humans on its way.
One of the recent books by a Nepali author critically validating the relevance of the great American dream even in the era of globalization is Other Side of Paradise. As the title itself hints, Asian migrant workers idolize America as their dreamland, while the natives in the US bear similar feelings about Nepal, especially its mountain. The drives, however, are quite different. The Americans love Nepal as an exotic resort to escape the monotony of mechanized life therein, while the Nepalese adore America as a land of easy dollars.
(A review of Kenny Pandey’s Other Side of Paradise)
This mindset—exotic versus affluent—is the most poignant theme the novel takes up. Pemba, a Sherpa mountain guide, wins the admiration of an American tourist Linda by dint of his honesty, hard work and innocent nature. Soon the two cross the limits of their personal space, and slip into intimate space, culminating in coitus. Linda moves back to the US and arranges everything for Pemba to migrate. Pemba flies to his dreamland on a fiancée visa, leaving his ailing mother and struggling family back in Phaplu. He marries Linda, and the two are on their honey-moon trip to Europe, enjoying all the exquisite sites and luxuries. No sooner are they back to California than Linda tenders divorce, and claims that she wants to marry Alex, a Hollywood actor, with whom she is soon launching a business. The news comes as a shock to Pemba. Frustrated, Pemba destroy all his papers—green card, passport and driving license—and enters the much-obscure Amish community in Pennsylvania, being one of its members. Later, Jack, an American tourist whom Pemba had rescued in the Himalayas from a potentially fatal accident, comes to know of Pemba and visits him. He appeals the Amish authority to release Pemba to attend his ailing mother in Nepal, and the application is granted. He takes Pemba away from there, and makes him a partner in his rafting business. The business prospers, and Pemba regains his lost Paradise. Soon he marries Mona from Nepal, has children, and starts a new life. He buys some Land in Pokhara and builds a house too, though he continues to live in the US. Linda slides in the background, and soon disappears from the scene of the narrative.
Critics: Mahesh Paudyal
Book: Other Side of Paradise
Author: Kenny Pandey
Publisher: Vajra Books, Kathmandu
Pandey’s novel foregrounds certain realities that roost in the minds of Asian migrants to America. While deciding to permanently move abroad, all that the migrants envision is easy cash and luxury. They seldom concentrate on the cultural interface, where many invisible traps exist. Secondly, the emigrants tend to carry with them some domestic expectations—reproduction of Nepali value systems in America, for example—and are shocked when the foreign realities contradict their expectations. Pemba had never thought Linda—so passionate and loving in the evening—would tender him a divorce paper soon after their honeymoon trip. Even more disturbing is the fact that she does not seem to bear any trace of guilt for her decision. Instead, she explains it as a move for her new career. She says, “Please, Pemba, this is for my new career and I expect you to help me out” (295).
The novel also makes an oblique comment on the weakening of family and marriage as social institutions. Marriages are like business contracts, and family like a motel where customers live until their call-letters are received from placement centers. There are no commitments and sacrifices anymore, and the question of inter-generational learning and passage of knowledge is completely ruled out. Sheer individualism, fueled by globalization, seems to coarse families and cultural value systems in America in an irreparable ways.
After Manjushree Thapa’s Season of Flight, Pandey’s Paradise is perhaps the latest delivery in English by a Nepali author on the issues of Nepali diaspora in the West. Though Thapa’s is partially a feministic endeavor, Pandey’s fiction transcends gender boundaries, and makes a general comment. Increasing frequency of divorce has become endemic; more than 50% of American marriages move to divorce.
The dream element plays the most important role as a trigger in the fiction. Linda’s dream of the Himalayas, not much as an aesthetician but as someone seeking a vault to escape the monotony of a machine-life, brings her into Pemba’s life, reciprocated by Pemba’s love of her as a gateway to enter his dreamland: America. These dreams, based more on immediate gains than larger goals of life, lead them to disintegration, and permanent fissure. Breakage of a marriage, simultaneously affects many lives in one’s family, and together with one dream, many connected dreams wither.
With a narrative that cuts across several theoretical terrains—migration, cultural confrontation, family cleavages, West versus East in terms of values, the Great American Dream, diasporization, hybridization and what not, the novel invites for multi-disciplinary researches. It’s limitation is its big size, jolt-like happenings like in fairy-tales, and sudden and tumultuous changes in decisions the characters take. Its central characters are morally and spiritually weak, and they are more driven by others than themselves. Buddhism, the religious background of Pemba does not find any use in shaping his personality, life and future. The novelist abandons Linda midway in the novel, much to the frustration of the curious readers.
[Paudyal teaches at the Central Department of English, TU]