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Han Suyin took Nepal to the world

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Han Suyin, the author and physician famous for writing the novel which became the Hollywood film Many Splendoured Thing, died at age 95 last week at her home in Lausanne, Switzerland.



In Nepal, she was best known for her semi-autobiographical, almost confessional,  novel The Mountain Is Young which in 1958 introduced Nepal to the world at a time when the country was just opening up. She visited Nepal for the coronation of King Mahendra and like her other novels, Han Suyin bases her plot on contemporary Kathmandu with fictitious names for actual personalities, including Fr Marshall Moran and Boris Lissanevitch.

The story centres on an English writer, Anne Ford, whose husband is a retired colonial civil servant. When her writing reaches a stalemate she decides to move to a missionary school in Kathmandu and become an English teacher. While in Nepal, she meets and falls in love with a Nepali engineer, and begins a process of self re-discovery. The love story comes with many threads involving loyalties to tradition, and dedication to emotional demands. The novel combines the resuscitation of a writer along with her reawakening as a woman.

The Nepali character in the novel is said to have been based on a real-life Indian engineer who was working on the Tribhuvan Highway and with whom Han Suyin had a relationship. She later married an Indian Army colonel, her third husband, and lived with in Bangalore. The daughter of a Hong Kong father and a Belgian mother, Han Suyin became a doctor and in her non-fiction work supported Mao Zedong’s revolution in China.

The mountain is young

The mountain is young

By describing an exact picture of the time she lived in Nepal, Han Suyin was able to introduce Nepal with The Mountain is Young which became a best-seller because of its erotic passages. After 54 years of its publication, the book still sells well at Pilgrims and Mandala book stores in Kathmandu.

If she returned to Nepal today, Han Suyin would be intrigued to find that politicians inspired by Mao Zedong won an elections are in power in Kathmandu. The author became controversial in the 1960s for her support for Mao’s policies, and for excusing the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution.

Skye McParland

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