New Delhi, India
Seasons of Flight is an account of a journey undertaken by Prema from a scenic Nepali village to a culturally and socially multi-hued metropolis in the U.S. The journey in this case is not only the geographical distance, but also the mental and the cultural one.
When Prema's name is drawn in a diversity lottery for green cards, she decides to leave her village, a caring lover, an absent sister who has joined a Maoist group, an old father and memories of her long dead mother for a place where she will be a complete stranger.
She arrives in the U.S. and finds that things are not as she imagined them to be. And so begins her struggle to survive and find her place in this totally different and new milieu.
Confused, she is never being sure about what she is doing. But one thing she is sure about is that she is not going back. As she drifts from one place to another, physically and psychologically, she meets people with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and tries to understand the “American way of life”.
Unlike most protagonists of novels by non-resident South Asian authors, she does not mourn the loss of her homeland nor does she regret her decision. On the contrary, she gets rid of the cultural baggage of her home country and adopts the new social mores of her adopted country.
She doesn't think twice while having affairs, including one-night stands, with various American men. When Luis, an affable half-Latino, comes into her life, she is strongly attracted to him. She decides to move in with him. Strangely, her Nepali friends don't see anything wrong with her move. Back home, the same people would have branded her ‘a whore' for the same act.
This makes it clear that parameters of morality are not static in nature and changes as we move across cultures and societies.
Though the story mostly follows the protagonist in Los Angeles, we constantly hear echoes of the war in Nepal. The conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali military has been interpolated so discreetly that it doesn't disturb the narrative of Prema's journey. This is what gives this novel, which is largely apolitical, a slightly political angle but the author stays on the fence, refusing to take sides.
Prema's sexual awakening is dealt with in a forthright, but delicate, manner. The sex scenes are direct and devoid of pretension, without shades of vulgarity or obscenity. This is something few writers can accomplish. This is a delightful read about self-discovery, sexual awakening and search for an identity in a foreign land. Lucidly written, the book also gives new insight into an immigrant life in America.
After finishing this book, I felt guilty about missing Manjushree's debut novel The Tutor of History. Now, I will certainly reach out for that.
This review was first published in the Hindu