I picked up Daphne Beal's "In the Land of no Right Angles" simply because I happened to be at the local library without my 'to read' list. As always I fell prey to the newness of the setting, Nepal, a very small country perched in the Himalayan mountains.
The writer's sensuous descriptions of the various locales in the novel, especially Kathmandu and Jankat in Nepal were perhaps the high point for me. It was like a vicarious journey into this picturesque land which seemed untouched by the vagaries of the West except for the few adventure seeking tourists and mountaineers who come here. Alex, the protagonist in the novel, is one such visitor who comes back a second time only to say goodbye to the simple and kind people of a small Nepalese village, Jankat, that had hosted her for a few months while she was there working as student researcher. Her trek to and from Jankat makes for a vivid and captivating read. Ms. Beal has an innate ability to draw color, smell, sound, and texture into her writings in a way that transports the reader into her settings be it the seedy and dangerous red-light area in Mumbai, the crowded sweat-reeking streets of Calcutta, or then the pristine and alluring slopes of Jankat.
Given that the protagonist is a westerner, and a woman who travels East to this exotic land of Nepal and who “ wanted to come home different from what I’d been—bolder, wiser, happier”, the storyline was almost predictable for me as it followed a well trodden path - that of self dicovery for the protagonist, where she discovers a side to herself that she is reluctant to claim. This self discovery is made possible for Alex because of Maya, the 'other' woman in the story; a beautiful, young, and undaunted Nepali girl who is quite the enigma for Alex and also the reader unfortunately. The death of Maya's sibling haunts her, and all her actions are driven by this painful reality; however, most of her decisions are highly questionable as are the actions they result in. In the light of which, Alex's near obsession with Maya's well being becomes unjustifiable to the reader as it seems so obviously misplaced.
There are some other interesting characters in the novel like the young free spirited professor, Will, who practices sex as an art and charms native Nepalese girls and his research students to join him in his artistic endeavors. Then there is the Heathcliff like Karsan, who Alex has a soft corner for and eventually gets into a physical relationship with. But, like Maya, Karsan carries a lot of emotional baggage which to the reader remains unexplained and completely unnecessary, especially in the light of the ending. Which ultimately leads me to believe that this is perhaps what the writer meant for the reader to carry away : that there are 'no right angles'. Every perspective on the situation, no matter from what 'angle', has a flaw; there are ' no right angles'!
Ms. Beale's first novel, "In the Land of no Right Angles', despite all the questions it raises, is worth reading because it's summertime! If you are sitting at home, unable to vacation in a faraway place that you long to be in, this novel will give you wings!