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while the gods were sleeping book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

While the Gods Were Sleeping is the fascinating journey of a Seattle native to Nepal and to herself. Elizabeth Enslin’s observations are keen. It is at Stanford University where Enslin meets and falls in love with Pramod Parajuli. Unknown to her at that time, this relationship would also lead to her relationship with Nepal and the social changes rocking the landlocked nation just like changes happening around the world in the late eighties.

During her doctoral studies in anthropology, Enslin changes her focus from researching in Africa to Nepal. With board acceptance, she travels to Nepal to record how social changes are affecting Nepali women. This change in research direction leads Enslin, Pramod, and their son on a journey through two cultures, American and Nepali. Being married to a high-caste Nepali, Enslin is both a member of the family and a foreigner. Always considering herself an independent, Enslin is suddenly frightened to remain alone in Nepal with her young son as Pramod must return to work in the United States. It is these varying dichotomies of insider/outsider or self-reliant/dependent that plays throughout the memoir displaying Enslin’s cultural growth and professional growth as well as her own personal acceptance.

Enslin’s memoir increased my understanding of Nepal as well as the fieldwork of anthropologists. In its basic sense, anthropology is the study of humankind. I thought anthropologists were merely meant to observe the events around them. Enslin shows that she observed but she also interacted with those she observed, which allowed her to enter into a culture that other westerners might not penetrate. At times Enslin admits to internal conflict as she struggles with “anthropological neutrality” versus her attachment to the local people she is observing.

Elizabeth Enslin’s While the Gods Were Sleeping was an interesting and enlightening discovery. Her writing is excellent. Her narration flows like the rivers she describes. Her characters come to life through her words. I found the political discussion a little tedious at times, but the entirety of the memoir benefited from the Nepali historical and political background. One doesn’t have to be an anthropologist or political savant to enjoy Enslin’s memoir. While the Gods Were Sleeping is an intelligent, insightful, and worthwhile read for any who enjoys an in-depth look into another culture.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Seal Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.