Monday, July 25, 2011

Nonfiction Notes for Summer

Summer reading doesn’t have to be all light mysteries, romance and other fiction. (Although they do have a special place in my beach bag!)  Two works of nonfiction in particular have enriched my summer so far.

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan (William Morrow, 2010).  The author, just 29 at the beginning of this tale, was traveling around the world and thought he should do some volunteer work so people didn’t think he was being self-indulgent dropping his responsibilities and taking to the road.  His time at Little Princes Children’s Home orphanage in Nepal during the civil war turns out to be more than he bargained for.  He discovers that in fact the children are not orphans: their parents have been conned by a child trafficker who told them that for exorbitant sums of money he would take their children away from their war-torn villages and to safety.  The trafficker would then abandon them when he got to the capital, Kathmandu, putting them on the streets and, if they were lucky, into the care of an orphanage. 

Grennan’s brief initial volunteer stint over, it isn’t long before he returns to Nepal. The story of his evolving relationship with these children and others is, well, what the word “heart-warming” was made for—you’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  The author is never self-aggrandizing and always honest even when it reveals his imperfections; he is quick to share when the joke’s on him.  But he becomes a man with a mission, to reunite these children with their parents, with the help of several other local and expat saviors.  Grennan founds a nonprofit organization called Next Generation Nepal (NGN), dedicated to the quest of reuniting families in postwar Nepal.  Don’t miss this beautiful story that will fill you with hope.  Can we ask anything more from a book? 

Reading The Foremost Good Fortune, a memoir by Susan Conley (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) was an affirmation of my own impressions of China and the challenges of picking up and relocating there with a young child.  The husband plugs into a job and “trailing spouse” is left to navigate the day to day, the oddities, the being different, the child’s sadness at missing home and her own… I could identify with so many of the moments especially the rocky transition for my son into a new group of kids, a new school.  (In our case devilishly complicated by an early epidemic of lice that further put some kids on the outs.)  The difference is that in the midst of it, Conley’s marriage stayed strong and her family came to love living in China.  

Oh, and it’s not a spoiler to tell you that Conley learns she has cancer.  Navigating that day to day with a young child is another matter all together.   Conley is honest and funny and vulnerable and her story reads like a really good novel.   For its insights about being a parent, being in a foreign place, battling a foreign enemy in one’s body, and just being a woman, it’s a wonderful representative of my favorite genre, the memoir. 

Tell me about your favorite summer reading this year, nonfiction or otherwise!