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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Talk: *Little Princes*, by Conor Grennan

This is my final review from the Indie Lit Awards Biography/Memoir short list.


(Also: Have you entered my Blogiversary Giveaway?)


Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Conor Grennan (Facebook) (Twitter)
William Morrow Paperbacks (2011), Reprint, Paperback (ISBN
Nonfiction (memoir), 320 pages (ISBN 0061930067 / 9780061930065)
Source: publisher
Reason for reading: Indie Lit Awards Short List (Biography/Memoir) WINNER, Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge

Opening lines (from the Prologue): “It was well after nightfall when I realized we had gone the wrong way. The village I had been looking for was somewhere up the mountain. In my condition, it would be several hours’ walk up a rocky trail, if we could even find the trail in the pitch-dark. My two porters and I had been walking for thirteen hours straight. Winter at night in the mountains of northwestern Nepal is bitterly cold, and we had no shelter. Two of our three flashlights had burned out. Worse, we were deep in a Maoist rebel stronghold, not far from where a colleague had been kidnapped almost exactly one year before.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website: In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war–torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from—a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.
Comments: I work for an organization whose mission is providing services to nurture healthy families. In some cases, that may mean bringing broken families together again. We’re part of the social-services system, supported by local government and the general community. We operate in a sphere not unlike that of Conor Grennan’s organization, Next Generation Nepal...and we operate in a very different world, figuratively and literally. For one thing, the families we’re trying to hold together were probably not broken apart by child trafficking.

At the beginning of a year of traveling around the world, and with very little idea of what he was getting into, Conor Grennan worked as a volunteer at the Little Princes Children’s Home in Godawari, Nepal for a few weeks. He hadn’t known what to expect, and he certainly hadn’t expected to be as affected by the experience as he was, but he quickly grew attached to the eighteen orphans who lived there and promised to come back as soon as he could. That wasn’t till over a year later, and on his return visit, he stayed longer and expanded the scope of his work. He’d learned that most of the children at Little Princes weren’t truly orphans; they’d been recovered from a child trafficker. Parents in the remote, impoverished northern regions of Nepal would give over their children in the belief that they’d get education and opportunities in Kathmandu, never knowing that they were being sold as laborers in the city or ending up on the streets. The city’s numerous children’s homes couldn’t help enough of them. There was no social-services system to protect them, let alone get them back home, but Conor was determined to do something about that. He could raise money...and he could make the difficult journey, largely on foot, into northern Nepal to track down families, beginning with those of the Little Princes.

Grennan may not be the most eloquent writer, but he’s a fine storyteller with a conversational style and a remarkable story to tell, and he capably engages his reader. It’s not hard to understand his bonding with the Little Princes and how that spurred an impulse to do more, and while it was difficult for me to keep some of the characters straight sometimes, it was easy to see how they affected him. I found him very likable--the nature of memoir sometimes makes it challenging to evaluate the story being told apart from the person telling that story, but having said that, both come off well here--and couldn’t help rooting for him. The journey to find the Little Princes’ families held many challenges that made for suspenseful reading--geography, weather, language barriers, and physical injuries among them--and I was completely drawn into it.

Conor Grennan’s work with Next Generation Nepal is ongoing, but Little Princes has a definite narrative arc--and one that would make an excellent film, based on what I was visualizing throughout my reading of the book. A portion of the proceeds of every copy of Little Princes sold goes to support NGN (I feel guilty about getting a review copy!), but the heightened attention and money a movie could generate would certainly help NGN carry out its mission:
Next Generation Nepal preserves family unity and strengthens communities by reconnecting trafficked children with their parents and culture in post-conflict Nepal by: 
  • Searching remote regions to find families of children who were taken by child traffickers with false promises of safety and education.
  • Reconnecting these children with their families by facilitating regular communications and visits.
  • Caring for children in transitional homes that offer safety and security during the reconnection process.
  • Strengthening local communities to support the safe reunification of children with their families whenever possible, in partnership with local and international organizations.
Little Princes is the moving, memorable story of an unexpected hero in an unlikely place, and I hope it leads to one happy ending after another.

Rating: 4/5

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