Escape into prostitution

Q. How did you create the character of Maya?

A. Maya is an amalgam of more than three different people I knew. When I was in Nepal in 1990, I was 20, and felt incredibly lucky to be there and wanted to disappear into the place. I met people trekking and in Katmandu. I was 20 and the women I met were 20. For Nepalese women in their 20s, making their way on their own was very tough. They were street smart, but had no education.

When I got back to the U.S., I became aware of the trafficking issue. Nepal's economy was in shambles, so people told me that, of course, women were "choosing" to go to Bombay's red-light districts. I became interested in what free will and choice for these women really meant.

Q. What interested you in the relationship triangle between Will, Alex and Maya?

A. Relationships are so much about power, and when you have three people in that situation, you watch things go "boing, boing, boing." There are different kinds of power -- economic, sexual and intellectual power. There is so much to play with.

— Dylan Foley

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No right angles or answers

"I was really interested in what it meant to be a Westerner coming of age in a foreign country," [Beal] said.... "We all change the world around us as we go. There are different kinds of influence besides political. This is social. "Starting in the '60s, these waves of foreigners started coming to Nepal and living there. I was just kind of fascinated by Westerners who set up house there. Nepal had not been a colonial possession. So what were the rules (of interaction)? What are the moral implications? What do you owe a place?"
— Geeta Sharma-Jensen

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Milwaukee-born Beal writes of hard choices in Himalayas

Milwaukee-born Beal writes of hard choices in Himalayas ....Writing the novel allowed Beal to explore what she describes as the "inherent contradictions in someone living decadently while seeking enlightenment," as well as the struggle Nepali people have in maintaining even a basic life in an unstable economy....

Of particular interest to Beal when she was reporting on the sex trade were the Nepali women who entered prostitution on their own terms. Driven to the sex trade by economic woes, the women did not fit into the clear-cut story the media sometimes report, of villainous Indian men traveling to Nepali villages and tricking beautiful girls into sexual slavery. This disconnect between the narrative the West wants to hear and a much more complex truth fascinated Beal....

"I think as somebody who loves journalism and who loves other people's stories, it's hard for me to imagine writing fiction without research," she said.

— Heather Lee Schroeder

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The Road from Kathmandu

“It started out as a little adventure.” So begins In the Land of No Right Angles, the story of Alex, a college student abroad in Kathmandu who befriends a Nepali girl, Maya, and follows her from a decrepit village to the capital and, finally, to the notorious red-light district of Mumbai. We spoke with novelist Daphne Beal, who lives in New York, and has been visiting Nepal and India since 1990.

Did you meet people like Maya in Nepal?

I knew several women in Kathmandu trying to make it out of their villages. But not until AIDS became a big deal was prostitution talked about. After I left Nepal, I saw Mary Ellen Mark’s incredible photo book Falkland Road [a Mumbai red-light strip], and I was stunned because there were so many Nepali faces.

Alex also meets some very glamorous people in Mumbai. What did you make of the divide between rich and poor there?

Initially I lived modestly in a guesthouse. A friend, the writer Suketu Mehta, said, “Daphne, this is no city to a puritan in. Embrace the paradox: Have tea at the Taj.” So I drank tea and ate chocolate cake, and I got sick—despite eating at food stalls and being fine. I didn’t become inured to the poverty, but I began to understand how people tune it out.

Where would you recommend visitors go in Kathmandu?

Kathmandu Guest House, a perennial favorite, has a beautiful garden, and there was always a monkey outside my window [ktmgh.com]. Dwarika’s Hotel is also lovely—posh, with old Nepalese wood carvings and the best food in town [dwarikas.com]. And visit the Patan Museum, in a palace south of the city [patanmuseum.gov.np].

Nepal has seen much upheaval since your first visit—most recently the abolition of the monarchy?

Hopeful. Without the albatross of the monarchy and with the Maoists now in parliament, Nepal stands a chance of facing its demons head-on and rebuilding itself in a way that represents its citizens.