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While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal    by Elizabeth Enslin order for
While the Gods Were Sleeping
by Elizabeth Enslin
Order:  USA  Can
Seal, 2014 (2014)
Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal, American anthropologist Elizabeth Enslin shares her experiences living - and giving birth to her son Amalesh - amongst an extended family of Brahman in-laws in the village of Gunjanagar in the lowland Chitwan Valley in Nepal. She must have been extraordinarily brave!

Elizabeth, who grew up in Seattle, met her husband to be, Pramod Parajuli in 1985 at Stanford. She was a grad student in anthropology while he studied international development education. His father was a rural pandit (priest) and the family was not wealthy. He 'wanted to research popular education among grassroot movements in India.' She arranged to do her dissertation on women's activism in India.

She describes meeting the extended family (and the relationships amongst them) in a 'place where menstruating women slept in the buffalo shed and family patriarchs dictated marriage partners for their children.' Culture shock even for an anthropologist, especially for a young, relatively inexperienced one! She certainly tested it by 'giving birth in Nepal while learning another language and finding a new research project'.

What follows is an in-depth (though somewhat rambling) exploration of history, politics, culture, social mores and social inequities (particularly for lower class women but really for all women) in the region. There's also a critique of development policy, 'the first onslaught of a capitalist war against subsistence, self-sufficiency, autonomy ... The mission? Inspire people to want Coca-Cola and need baby formula.'

I have travelled and trekked in Nepal twice but never understood the culture around me. So I very much enjoyed this modern perspective on the country and its varied peoples. I especially liked reading of the wisdom and activism of Enslin's Aama (mother-in-law), and her songs. If you're looking for a simple travelogue, this might not be the book for you. But if you're interested in more depth, you'll appreciate While the Gods Were Sleeping as much as I did.

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