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.