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 around 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.
The Nepali character in the novel is based on a real-life Indian engineer, Vincent Ruthnaswamy, who was working on the Tribhuvan Highway and with whom Han Suyin had a relationship and later married to live with in Bangalore. The daughter of a Hong Kong father and a Belgian mother, Han Suyin became a doctor.
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 and are in power in Kathmandu. The author became controversial in the 1960s for her support of Mao's policies, and for excusing the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution.