Saturday, October 07, 2017

Bhutan: The Circle of Karma, by Kunzang Choden

I'm always wary when there seems to be only one book available from any country. The quality can vary. And this one sounded not quite my cup of tea - talk of "karma" and other spiritual concepts somewhat taken over by the Western new-agers tended to put me off.

My misgivings however were, to my pleasure, proved wrong. The book is the first novel written in English by a Bhutanese writer. And yet it read well, the English being of a higher standard than that in many of the translations I have read, where the translator should know their native language. The narration is simple and straightforward, telling the story of the life of a Bhutanese woman, Tsomo. When her mother dies in childbirth, her life changes. The book follows through all the twists and turns in her life, as she marries, loses her first husband to her sister, and later marries again. But all along she has desired to study religion and eventually she becomes a nun. This is a society where religion is the only type of learning. Her father has tutored young boys in his home, but as a girl, this was denied to Tsomo.

We see both the benefits and drawbacks of the simple life - the superstition and the useless rituals. For instance, the only treatment for a difficult childbirth is too feed the spirits and ask them to go away.

The book is a fascinating insight into the culture of this tucked away Himalayan kingdom, and also shows the changes than gradual modernisation brings to Tsomo's life - the building of roads, the coming of Western medicine.

While it would be good to have more books available from this nation, if I had had to choose from several, I would have been happy to have chosen this one.

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