It a smashing event at the Summit Hotel recently, Cas de Stoppelaar, Consul General of Nepal to the Netherlands, and author of the recently translated Elephant Polo, was comfortably in his element, surrounded by friends, businessmen and Summit guests. The evening took on the flavour of a chapter from the book, where fact slips gently into fiction and then trips back again.
The evening's UN flavour was quite strong, particularly fitting given that this international organization began populating the Summit just as the tourists who used to frequent it tailed off during the years of conflict. The translator, Adriaan Verheul, was linked up by live video feed from Virginia (thanks to Skype and Worldlink). Both he and the chief guest, Ian Martin, are serving members of the United Nations.
Elephant Polo charts the trials and tribulations of Oscar Oomen, a Dutch biologist who decides to establish a hotel (the thinly disguised Summit) in Nepal. Many of the characters are drawn from de Stoppelaar's own partners and acquaintances, who will be intrigued to discover how they are rendered in the novel. The book romps along at a fair pace, with belligerent locals, indolent carpenters and imperial foreigners driving the plot. Contemporary politics intersects ever more with the revelry, and when a group of Maoists actually kidnap a number of Oscar's tourists, it appears that his carefree fun is finally over.
De Stoppelaar is an accomplished writer, with two published collections of short stories: The Lotus Eaters (1983) and Beethoven in Darjeeling (1990), both in Dutch. With Elephant Polo, his first novel, he has tried his hand at a new style which will prove to be popular with readers looking for culturally-rooted escapism. We leave you with a sample:
'Oscar doesn't waste a second. He runs down the staircase, almost slips and falls while making the turn under the bamboo shrubs, runs through the vegetable garden and sees through the gate of the trekking field a number of Sherpas hacking away at each other. If it wasn't for the survival of the tourist season, he would have taken a moment to absorb this scene that seems to have escaped from a medieval painting by Brueghel. Large fires light up the field and in the flickering of the flames shadows are fighting with whatever object they can lay their hands on. Everybody seems to be swinging their knuckles at everybody else.
Sixty completely drunk men are in the process of eliminating each other, his entire trekking staff.'
Elephant Polo: The Rise and Fall of a Hotel in Nepal
by Cas de Stoppelaar
Translated from the original Dutch by Adriaan Verheul
296 pages, NRs 900
Distributed by Vajra Book Shop