The Waiting Land

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

While in Pokhara, Murphy lived as the Nepalese do, washing in the river, sleeping on a bamboo mat, and sharing quarters with rats. This ability to not only adopt the local culture but to relish it as well permeates her writing. When a monsoon floods the refugee camp, she takes her cue from the fun-loving Tibetans and joins them in laughter at the sight of rising water. Later, when she is horrified to come upon a severed head, she learns that chopping up bodies and leaving them for the vultures or throwing them in the river are among the more practical forms of corpse disposal for Tibetans living at high altitudes.

Murphy observes Asia with a careful eye that looks beyond the exotic. She is also very funny. To capture the mood of a disorganized Nepalese religious festival, she writes: “The Nepalese are not trying to do something and failing--they are just not trying.”

Only the physical beauty of the region is described with unabashed adulation. The chapter on Murphy’s trek from Kathmandu north to the Langtang Valley is an appreciation of the grandeur of the Himalayas. In a single day’s hike, Murphy and her Sherpa guide climb from blossom-laden fields to snow-covered hilltops.

Although eloquent when it comes to Nepal, Murphy is silent about herself, and this can be frustrating for the reader. After roaming with the prolific Irish travel writer, one wants to know more about the adventurous spirit that moves her across the world. Yet Murphy’s willingness to share her thoughts on so much else makes it hard to begrudge her this privacy.