5. A book written in South Asia: The Guru of Love by Samrat Upadhyay
List Progress: 12/30
There is more literary fiction about older men having affairs with younger women than you can shake a stick at. Many, many authors have waxed poetic about how depressed intellectual men, be they artists, professors, or any profession, have been inspired and reinvigorated by the presence of a bright, sensual young woman who lights up their life and reignites their passions. Whether the young woman in question gets an inner life or not is entirely incidental to this type of story. But Nepali author Samrat Upadhyay takes an interesting approach to the poetic infidelity sub-genre; by placing the reveal of the affair in the middle of the story, the story is just as interested in showing the consequences of the older man’s actions. The Guru of Love is not groundbreaking, but it has enough twists on a familiar formula to be engaging throughout.
Ramchandra is a math teacher trying to make ends meet in Kathmandu, as political unrest in the city and country is spelling the end of the Panchayat partyless political system. Ramchandra comes from humble origins, but his wife by arranged marriage, Goma, is of high-class birth; despite being the ones to arrange the marriage, her parents seem to hate their low-class son-in-law. The couple have lived in relative peace for decades, raising their two children, until Ramchandra’s eye is drawn to a young woman he is tutoring for her national exams. The woman, Malati, is living in poverty and the single mother to an infant, but she still represents more vitality and hope than Ramchandra has felt in a long time. They begin an affair…and then Goma finds out.
This is where the book really kicks into gear, because Goma is no harridan wife trope. She is hurt and upset, but she also sees the impossible position that Malati is in, and shows her immense kindness, even inviting her to live in their home. Ramchandra’s sexy fantasy is now yet another domestic reality and the women in his life are actual people, not his symbolic playthings. His thirteen year old daughter in particular is appalled by her father’s behavior and he just has to deal with that.
The Guru of Love could have gone a lot further with these ideas than it ultimately did. The stuff that works works, but there is certainly a lot of slack room. However, the peek into Nepali life in the 1990’s is fascinating, and Kathmandu feels populated and alive. There is enough here to recommend, but it is certainly not an essential read, just an interesting spin on a tired trope in a good setting.
Would I Recommend It: Maybe.