Oindrila Mukherjee reviews the novel in LARB

citysonThe gifted Nepalese writer Samrat Upadhyay writes in English about ordinary, mostly middle class characters in his homeland, and their struggles against economic hardship and entrenched social customs. His latest novel,The City Son, explores dichotomies already familiar to readers of his work: he sets the city — always Kathmandu — against the village, and men against women. His female characters are, again, particularly vulnerable, as they are forced into arranged marriages and later abandoned by their husbands, who fall in love with other women. In this case, the rural, female protagonist ofThe City Son refuses to accept her fate, and fights back in a manner that challenges not only social norms, but also what we’ve come to expect in a South Asian female character, period. Upadhyay’s Didi is a victim who becomes a predatory villain, yet she remains a deeply tragic, near mythic figure, whose actions lead to no happiness, least of all for herself.

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In this interview with Kitaab’s fiction editor Oindrila Mukherjee, Samrat Upadhyay, a fiction writer of Nepali origin, discusses his journey in the world of fiction.

SamratupadhyayHis first book, the short story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) has been translated into French and Greek and was the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award as well as a pick for the 2001 Barnes & Noble Discover Great Writers Program. Upadhyay’s stories have been read live on National Public Radio and published widely as well as in SCRIBNER’S BEST OF THE WRITING WORKSHOPS and BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1999. Upadhyay’s novel The Guru of Love (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year 2003, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2003, and a BookSense 76 collection. The novel was also a finalist for the 2004 Kiriyama Prize, and has been translated into several European languages. Upadhyay’s story collection, The Royal Ghosts (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), won the 2007 Asian American Literary Award, the Society of Midland Authors Book Award, and was declared a Best of Fiction in 2006 by the Washington Post. The book was also a finalist for the Frank O’Connor Int’l Short Story Award from Ireland and for the Ohioana Book Award.

His second novel Buddha’s Orphans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) has been called a novel of “ambition and heft” by The New York Times and “beautifully told” by Publishers Weekly, which gave it a starred review. The novel has been translated into German and Czech. It was also longlisted for the DSC Prize in India. The City Son, Upadhyay’s fifth book and third novel, was published last month by Soho Press.

He is the Martha C. Kraft Professor of Humanities at Indiana University.

Are you really the first Nepali writer writing in English to be published in the West as Wikipedia says? And if so, why? What was happening in NEW before you?