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City of Dreams reviewed by Cilla Khatry at Republica

with 2 comments

BOOK OF DREAMS

  • CILLA KHATRY

Among all the short stories I’ve read, there’s never been a favorite. Ask me to name a favorite book, or author and you’ll get the answers in seconds – The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and Amy Tan, just in case you are curious. But if you were to ask me for a favorite short story, I’ll have to think a while and think hard just to name a few that I’d say are nice and recommend you to read. Jhumpa Lahiri’s A Temporary Maatter from The Interpreter of Maladies, and Hanif Kureishi’s The Assault are the two stories that ultimately come to my mind.

But now, I have a favorite short story. I’ve reread it a couple of times in the past week, and recommended it to at least a dozen people already. The title story in City of Dreams by Pranaya SJB Rana where a Kathmandu native, Kanti, wanders about the city and discovers it to be alive and breathing, thus constantly evolving, just when he thinks he knows every nook and cranny, is undoubtedly the best story in the book, and the most perfect short story I’ve read in a long time.

When I heard about City of Dreams, I hadn’t been very optimistic about another Nepali short story writer, given the short stories I’d read by Nepali writers in the past, but Rana has surpassed all expectations; actually exceeded them.

A writer struggles with his craft and meets a muse of sorts; a boy leapfrogs into adulthood to impress a girl; school friends share everything until eventually and invariably drifting apart; a marriage goes horribly wrong till one of them makes a difficult choice; a couple argues about each other’s stand on faith and God till an event forces them both to change their ways.

The common element in all these stories is Kathmandu, with the exception of just one that is set in New York City. Rana has managed to evoke all the sights, sounds, and smells of Kathmandu streets and narrow Ason roads, so much so that you can hear the bus conductors calling out the routes, and conversations wafting through windows of houses with green shutters on the ground floor, and smell the ‘samosas’ and piping hot ‘jalebis’, and even catch a whiff of cigarette smoke tinged with ganja somewhere nearby.

But you don’t need to know the alleys and the winding Kathmandu roads or be able to identify with the ‘Nepali’ experiences to enjoy these stories that deal with every day issues like love, friendship, and life in general. There’s joy, pain, envy, regret, rancor, despair and humiliation in these stories and these elements make for universal themes.

Rana has blatantly disregarded the time honored principle of ‘showing-not telling’ but that actually works in the stories’ favor here. In the ten short stories in City of Dreams, Rana showcases his brilliant writing and storytelling skills. There is no denying that he writes exceedingly well. Eloquent narration and compelling descriptions make City of Dreams a gripping read.

Besides the title story, the nine other stories in the book too have themes so relatable that they will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them. With failed love affairs, complexities of friendships and relationships, infidelity, and survival, Kathmandu comes alive in these stories that present seemingly ordinary life happenings in extraordinary ways. The protagonist is almost always male and sometimes some parts here and there seem autobiographical in nature.

The best part of the short stories in the book is that they never feel incomplete. Also the fact that Rana hasn’t tried to cash in on Nepal’s image, like many Nepali writers tend to do, is another huge plus point. Rana’s writing is smooth and he has some of the best lines. Age snuck up on us like something malicious in the dark; When reason fails you, you have to believe in something. There is only so much reason can do for you. It can draw causes and effects and it labels the irrational as coincidences or anomalies – Teeming with lines like these (and there are many more such gems), reading City of Dreams feels like living in a dream; one that you don’t want to wake up from.

If you’ve grown up in Kathmandu, then you have to read City of Dreams. There’s a persuasive quality in the stories, achieved with charm, beautiful narration, and the occasional dash of humor. These snapshots of Nepali life will resonate with Nepalis while offering a different view of the capital city to the international audience.

Coupled with a hot cup of tea on a warm winter morning, City of Dreams has been a delightful reading experience. Kathmandu seems a little different than it did before, thanks to this young, highly imaginative writer who has forced me to see the city in ways I never had. It might perhaps be a little too soon, but it’s definitely not presumptuous, to say that if Rana keeps on writing like this, he could very well be the voice that represents Nepali literature in English.
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Written by Pranaya

November 8, 2015 at 8:26 AM

2 Responses

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  1. I look forward to reading it. Any idea where I can buy the book?

    bibstha

    December 20, 2015 at 6:11 AM

    • yes! you can get it at most major bookshops but it should be available on sastobook.com and at educational book house in jamal. thank you!

      Pranaya

      December 21, 2015 at 8:58 AM


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