Author: Elizabeth Enslin
Elizabeth Enslin is a graduate student in anthropology at Stanford University when she meets another Stanford graduate student, Pramod Parajuli, who is studying international development education. Pramod comes from Chitwan, a small village in Nepal, and has come to Stanford to pursue his intellectual interests. As they grow to know each other, and their relationship develops, Elizabeth starts facing serious issues: can Elizabeth and Pramod both pursue their doctoral pursuits while having a relationship? Pramod is from Nepal. Will Elizabeth fit in with Pramod’s Brahman caste in Nepal, the highest Hindu caste? Pramod’s father is a pandit (priest) but the family lives by farming in a small village. Will Elizabeth be able to learn Nepalese? Does she want to? Can she change her doctoral interests from India to Nepal and how? And finally, does she want to put a man before her career as an anthropologist? The anthropologist side of Elizabeth is intrigued; the pragmatic side hesitates.
When Elizabeth realizes that she is deeply in love with Pramod as he is with her, her strange and intriguing life begins, and the fantasy falls short as they travel to Nepal to live with Pramod’s family for two years.
As doctoral students (Pramod’s goal is to research popular education among grassroots movements in India, as Elizabeth struggles to find a focus on women’s issues: she has already changed her dissertation from India to Nepal and she must observe and take assiduous notes in order to finish her dissertation. And then Elizabeth gets pregnant. As she struggles with Pramod going to India and leaving her alone with his family in a strange and constraining culture, she tries to find common ground with his mother, Aama, his father, his sisters and brothers, cousins and townspeople. And then she fears for her baby: can she have a natural birth in a community rife with disease and poverty?
As Elizabeth realizes that Chitwan is the perfect place for her dissertation, she has her baby after a grueling labor and begins to bond with the women of Chitwan. Her mother in law puts her story in songs and writes them down, as do the other women in the village. Their lives are hard and the caste system is patriarchal and rigid. As Elizabeth learns to speak Nepalese, she finds her place and her theme.
Brilliant, with detailed information on Nepal and its culture and people, Elizabeth Enslin gives not only a personal diary but a scientific anthropological study of her struggles in Nepal. Her juxtaposition of reality and science is perfect, and instead of a travelogue we struggle with Elizabeth as we learn of Chitwan and its history as she does. Elegant, bountiful and spellbinding, this memoir glistens like a diamond. I could not put it down.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal is available on Amazon.com as well as booksellers nationwide.