The Ghosts in the Hills: First English novel on Nepal’s Maoist war

Dr Meena Poudel

  • Read Time 2 min.

Reading a recently published novel The Ghosts in the Hills by Dr. Krishna Upadhyaya, a well-known Nepali human rights professional, who powerfully writes on the Maoist war, is a fun. It starts with a journey of an underage rural girl, Janaki. The novel delves deep into the issues in the interior country in 1990s and weaves the events leading to the Maoist movement and developing it into a full-fledged, painful war.

The novelist magnificently weaves the life of Janaki and her family with the start of the Maoist war, maintaining its timeline. It’s a fiction revealing the historical facts, people, and social relations at the time of the Maoist war. Treading through the long years after the war, Janaki experiences that certain groups of people remain disadvantaged, excluded and discriminated and nothing helps them—neither revolution or evolution.  And Janaki tries a new way.

It is also a novel on and about women. It is about their participation in the labour, war, and politics for change and progress, but when it comes to sharing of the fruits of the participation in any areas of national life, the fruits are plucked not by them, a point that makes women go extra-mileage to secure their rights, which Janaki the main character does.

This 350 pages long novel takes you through the Tharu huts, Dalit hamlets, schools controlled by armed groups, mountain trails and villages. Obviously, it is about war, but it is also about fathomless love, dedication, betrayal, and reflecting upon and questioning own past to fight. Janaki valiantly fights as a Maoist rebel against the state forces but also against the corrupt leadership who led the war and forgot the dreams they sold to people.

The novel makes shocking revelation about how social dynamics were at play to make children join the war activities.

It is an honest account with deep reflection upon war and criticism of the history on the part of the novelist. The novelist tries to give explanations of many events previously not counted. However, in some places the extra-details may make reader feel that stories move in slower pace, but the readers realise later that the novelist portrays duality of the characters, events and minds.

It is the first English novel on Nepal’s Maoist war. It is also waged by some of children, but a close look gives us to understand that there were very many routes for children to join that—many push and pull elements—the Maoists, army and the police. The novel also makes shocking revelation about how social dynamics were at play to make children join the war activities.

The flow of stories is good, the literary symbolisms used are universal, but some of them may be confusing for readers – especially due to use of some Nepali words by the author.  

The novel ends with Janaki’s questions to the community of Nepali politicians. Nepal will have to continue seeking the answers to these questions.

Dr Meena Poudel is a sociologist