Manjushree Thapa, born in Nepal and raised in Canada and the US, has established a formidable reputation as an author and activist. Her latest novel All of Us in Our Own Lives reestablishes her credentials as the foremost woman writer from Nepal.
The novel is set in the backdrop of international aid that pours into Nepal from the world over. It is a huge industry that straddles Nepal, and to be employed in one of the international NGOs is arguably the best opportunity a well-educated young person can aspire to, better even than the private sector. There is a lot of money and power in this sector and as quoted by the author herself in a related interview, with almost no accountability to the citizens of Nepal, or to the citizens of donor countries. While this cash flow benefits many, a lot has been misused. Thapa weaves in her understanding of the intrigues and shenanigans that play out while giving vent to her activist voice.
The novel also portrays the personal quest of the four main characters and their struggle to break free from their insecurities. The author paints a succinct but compelling picture of the corruption that plague the aid industry.
The main protagonist, a lawyer, Ava, (Abha) quits her job with a Canadian law firm and she takes up an assignment with an International NGO in her native country, Nepal. Adopted by an affluent Canadian family from an orphanage in Kathmandu, Ava is haunted by guilt of the twist of fate that saved her from the life of desolation she sees in the faces of Nepal’s women. She seeks to come to terms with her inner conflicts and takes up her new assignment in Nepal. Her work with the NGO embroils her in the struggles of ordinary womenfolk in Nepal who spend their lives on the margins, leading a deprived and desolate existence.
The other three characters in the book also engage in their respective personal quests and their lives intersect in a village where the funding has been centralised. The angst and desolation of the large number of expat Nepalese men who leave their homeland to seek a better life and the social fissures caused by their prolonged absence to the family members they leave behind are brought out in this book. Thapa’s language and narrative makes it an interesting read. Her love for the country and its people shines through the novel.