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Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature.

Nepali is one of the smaller NIA languages, spoken by approximately 17 million people, around the same number as speak Assamese, and its literature is neither well known nor very old. The "founder-poet," adi-kavi, of Nepali literature, Bhanubhakta Acharya, died in 1868, and a half century later Chandra Shamsher complained that there was still almost nothing to read besides Bhanubhakta and so founded the Gorkha Language Publication Committee to remedy the situation. As Himalayan Voices attests, the initiatives of Shamsher and other pioneers were crowned with great success. In the next 75 years Nepali writers created a literature of world stature. This was achieved despite the fact that Nepal was more or less isolated from the foreign influences that stimulated the development of modern literatures in other NIA languages, and, until the revolution of 1951, the land was ruled by the censorious Ranas, who threw more than one writer into prison. Censorship was only effectively ended with the lifting of the ban on political parties in 1990, the year this volume went to press.

Himalayan Voices is an anthology of Nepali poetry and short stories in English translation, and contains eighty poems by twenty-one poets and twenty short stories by sixteen different authors. The emphasis is on poetry, the most highly developed genre in Nepali literature, and the stress is on writers from Nepal rather than those from India. The various sections of the book are prefaced by introductory material which adds considerably to its value. This provides not only the usual biographical information about the authors but includes as well succinct and pertinent sketches of the historical, political, and literary contexts in which the authors worked. Without this it would hardly be possible for the initiated reader to appreciate the translations to any worthwhile degree. This introductory material justifies the subtitle, for the reader who works his way through Himalayan Voices will acquire a basic grasp of the literature. The selections are balanced, though there is a natural emphasis on the older, established poets. Hutt illustrates new trends with a selection of contemporary poets. The translations are fluent and reliable. The original Nepali title of each poem and short story is given, a courtesy not always observed in books of this type; thus it is a simple matter for the reader who has some Nepali to locate the original. Footnotes explain unfamiliar references. One notes that in the first footnote to the first poem in the book, Lekhnath Paudyal's "A Parrot in a Cage," Hutt writes that "dvija means 'twice-born' and therefore of Brahman, or possibly Vaishya caste," and thus misses the pun. Dvija can also denote a bird, like the parrot of the title, which is first born as, and then from, an egg. The volume also contains a glossary, a bibliography (predominately of Nepali works), and an index. Himalayan Voices is an excellent introduction to Nepali literature and few, if any, of the larger NIA languages can boast of a comparable anthology.
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Author:Smith, W.L.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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