Jane Wilson-Howarth

 

Snowfed Waters

 
 
curecoversmall
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, Delhi
Author: Jane Wilson-Howarth
Page count: 316
RRP: £3.50 / ₹399.00
ISBN: 9781784073220 / ASIN: B00HRUBBRW

In kindle format and in print.
The text amounts to just over 101,000 words
 

Snowfed Waters  is a dramatic and moving story set in the shadow of the Himalayas. It is a tale of two cultures, of false assumptions, of courage in the face of disaster and of the gradual dawning of self awareness.
 

***

Sonia Swayne’s life is in bits. Her husband has left her and she has been fired from her teaching job. With her self esteem at rock bottom she decides to flee her old life in Cambridge and goes to work for a charity on Rajapur Island in Nepal.
 
On the surface, life in the Nepali village is unsophisticated and the people uneducated. Clumsily, Sonia tries to impose her own values on her hosts but the more she learns about their customs and their faith, the more she questions her own values. She is particularly influenced by the spirituality and spontaneity of a quiet teenage girl, Moti.
 
And then there is Rekraj, a sensitive young high caste Nepali man with whom Sonia forms an attachment. She basks in the warmth of his admiration without analysing her feelings too deeply: she simply enjoys being wanted again.
 
There are clouds on the horizon though and there are ill omens in the form of earth tremors. Lord Shiva is angry and Rekraj regrets his impure thoughts.
 
The story reaches its climax when Sonia and Moti set out on a pilgrimage into the mountains. The two women race back – fearful of what will happen on the way and fearful of what they will find back on Rajapur Island.
 
Can Sonia summon her old inner strength and resourcefulness and revive her old self-respect?

 

The idea for this novel originally arrived in my consciousness around the time that A Glimpse of Eternal Snows was first published. I thought it might be fun – through writing about them – to try to get inside the heads of some of my self-effacing and less forthcoming Nepali friends and acquaintances as well as the more assertive higher castes. I also conceived a journey for a woman who could be me – Sonia certainly contains parts of me – but she could also be someone who needs to reinvent herself in order to survive. 

I have enjoyed the process, and the adventures Sonia became tangled up in were quite a surprise even to me, but what has evolved is, I believe, a life-affirming read.

And this book is a reminder that ADVENTURE STORIES ARE NOT JUST FOR SMALL BOYS.

 

I was wrenched awake, at the tail-end of a stifled scream. I fought my way up from a deep dark dream. ‘Who’s there?!’
 
Heart thumping, mouth open, I strained to catch the tiniest sound. Nothing was there. The scream had been mine. I felt for the reassuring swirls of the amulet at my neck.
 
Fidgeting allowed me to feel the reassuring softness of the muslins against my sweat-dampened face. I caught my breath. Remembered - finally - where I was. My hand went to the reassuring swirls of the amulet at my neck. At first I could hear nothing but my heartbeat. Then the silence was punctuated by little scratchings and ferrettings.
 
I didn't want to move from the safety of the covers but I had to go. No choice. My bladder was full to bursting. That was what had woken me. I must've slept for quite a while. I cursed my own timidity. I’d been too scared to use that hole-in-the-ground toilet before I’d settled for the night. Should've gone then. Stupid not to have.
 
Imagining the awful things my hand might meet in the dark, I reached out for the hurricane lamp and felt cold metal and disgusting oiliness. I groped for matches. I struck one and the room unfolded as it flared. I was transfixed by the miracle of being able to see again. I checked the shadowy corners of the cell-like room. Nothing.
 
The match burned my fingers and I dropped it. Darkness again. Unidentifiable noises again. Small feet were scampering over the floor. I smelled phosphorus and burnt skin. I sat up. I swung my legs around so I was perched on the edge of my strange string bed. I bent down again for the matches; struck another; turned up the wick; raised the lamp-glass; lit the lamp. There. I was really quite competent. I could do this. I held the light high so that I could see my way to the silent, deserted outside. The area where the women had been cooking was clean and tidy. All the hens were under baskets. Everyone was asleep. I wouldn’t need to use the lean-to. I could just pee in the vegetable patch.
 
Carefully I picked my way between big leaves that sprouted from the ground. I found a gap, I set down the lamp and squatted. Relief at last. But then as my stream slowed, I registered sounds coming from the verandah. Something was moving over there. It sounded large. Maybe several nocturnal creatures were hunting - hunting me?
 
The reality was worse.
 
I’d assumed this was the middle of the night and that everyone would be asleep. But they’d seen. They were giggling. They’d tell everyone that the clumsy foreigner had peed on their vegetables. I pulled up my pyjamas. Wet running down my legs made them stick. I scuttled inside, not daring to look towards the verandah. Back in bed, safe under the soft cosy covers like a small child, I hid from my shame. I was disgusted with myself. They’d be disgusted with me too.
 
Other painful and embarrassing scenes crowed into my head now: my blooded face in the mirror; the hearing; the accusations; that bitter child; the cat; the hospital. Then that was all pushed aside by a memory of the airport.
 
Everything had seemed so strange – and smelly – that I’d almost tried to get back to the plane. I’d wanted to return to the safety of bland grey old England. I’d had plenty of time to vacillate. The luggage had taken a long, long time to populate the ancient conveyor belt, but then celebratory whooping and cheering alerted me to the first rucksacks bursting through those flappy transparent doors into the arrivals hall. A group of colourful Americans triumphantly swung rucksacks onto their backs and transformed into huge high-spirited hippified tortoises.
 
Tiny Nepalese cowered as the Americans shouted, ‘Comin through!’ and ploughed towards the exit. They felled a little girl in a lacy pink skirt. Families pulled their children and frail elderly close so that a channel opened up. A small boy made a daring lunge between their big mountain boots to recover an empty chewing gum box. When a dangling waterbottle hit his head it made an interesting ringing sound that made me laugh. I started laughing again now, but it was a mad hysterical laugh. I hoped my host family didn’t hear me.
 
Noises started again. A nasty rasping could have been a snake. There were definitely creatures moving in the thatch. Bits of straw fell down on me. There were scuttlings that sounded like mice or scorpions on the floor. Or, worse, rats. I shuddered at the thought of things climbing into bed with me or falling on me from the ceiling.
 
My hand went for comfort to the object I prized most in the world, the talisman at my neck. I wondered again about its origins. I felt the familiar and reassuring intricacies of its design.
 
Our family lore was that it came from the foothills of the Himalayas, and here I was staying in a traditional house only 30 kilometres from where those mountains rise sheer out of the Plains. Perhaps it was that realisation that reminded me of the foreign phrase, cutty budgie hay. It was something my great-grandfather used to say, and it had been adopted into our family vocabulary. He’d been in North India during the war and said that the words had kept him safe. He seemed to believe that they were connected to some kind of mysterious force. They would keep me safe too. Maybe somehow I could use them to help me to get my life back.
 
I thought about gentle monks and holy men. I recalled a naked ascetic I’d seen from the bus. I drifted into sleep trying not to think about his flaccid ash-covered genitals.
 
Next time I woke, daylight was stabbing through tiny oval openings that served as windows. In the sleepy fog of coming back into the real world, the acrid smell of cow dung rising from the mud floor penetrated my consciousness. I’d expected that the thatch would make the inside of the house smell of fresh hay but it was musty and stale. It seemed unhygienic, as well as stark. A few dusty wilted flowers had been stuffed in an old oil can – as decoration, I suppose; these were plonked on the battered wooden crate that was my bedside table. There was no chair. There wasn’t even a peg to hang my jacket on. Someone had used rusty nails to secure a picture of a woman with blue skin; it looked as if it had been torn out of a magazine. I’d had a good sleep though. The string bed was surprisingly comfortable, and cotton-stuffed quilt and soft muslin cover were cosier than I’d expected.
 
I realised what had woken me this time. Some predator or vermin was clawing at the fabric of the house, as if scratching to get in through my bedroom door. But there was no door. I tensed as I heard it again. Then, ‘Bad tea memsahib!’
 
‘What?’
 
‘I am bringing bad tea memsahib!’
 
Sister Sweet’s teenage daughter pulled back the cloth that acted as a door and came to my bedside with a steaming glass of something.
 
‘What’s wrong with it?’
 
‘Memsahib?’
 
‘Why is it bad tea?’
 
She wore a puzzled frown. ‘I am bringing tea for you to drink in your bad – bad tea.’
 
‘Ah tea-in-bed!’
 
‘Exactly so memsahib!’ She left before I thought to thank her.
 
The bad tea was thick syrupy and deliciously spicy. I used it to wash down my Well Woman vitamin pills. I’d only been in the country a week and I was getting used to the sweetness already. Actually this was a perfect start to the day. In fact that morning, things felt better; better than they had in a very long time. I’d slept all right – eventually – and woken feeling really quite good.

 

"I wished I could paint this ineffable beauty but I had never been artistic. I hadn’t even packed a camera, and my phone was out of charge. It didn’t matter. I just breathed in the feeling, savouring it. Suddenly I knew that I’d enjoy many more moving moments and visions of beauty, and that they’d sustain me for the rest of my life."

"no-one would want to go through a traumatic experience but when you’ve survived something life-shattering and risen above it, you achieve a kind of serenity."

"We found a smooth inviting boulder under a vast banyan tree, and sat in companionable silence. There unexpectedly, on that rock, I saw the secret of contentment. True happiness is only ever possible if you have been unhappy. And there, at that moment, I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so peaceful. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to take in any more happiness."

"I try to tell myself that getting angry and harbouring bitterness doesn’t help anybody, least of all the angry bitter person." 

Reviews

  • Snowfed Waters is a great read. It is an engaging love story; at times a fast-moving thriller; a thoughtful account of cultures that are baffling to one another; and a vividly detailed and observant travel book - all in one. It movingly tells the story of a troubled and outspoken young woman, Sonia, who travels to Nepal in search of distraction and finds healing instead. I defy any reader not to fall in love with the teenage local girl, Moti, a wonderful creation. There is a good ending too, not entirely predictable but absolutely right. 
    Victor Watson, author


  • Deserted by her husband and forced out of her job as a schoolteacher, Sonia Swayne flees the sullen climes of Cambridge, England, to work for a charity which trains teachers in the plains of Nepal. She ends up on the green, exotic island of Rajapur in the middle of the Karnali river.
    Armed only with an amulet and a mantra, and vague stories of an ancestor who lived in Kanpur and died during the Revolt of 1857, she finds herself among people and in a culture very different from her own. Guliya Tharu, Sonia’s host in Nepal, is forever befuddled by her jumpy guest; Guliya’s young daughter Moti spoils her with ‘bad tea’ in the mornings and takes her on an epic pilgrimage to a holy shrine; while the handsome and courteous Rekraj, a colleague, acts as her local guardian, and protects Sonia from spicy food and his lecherous cousins.
    Nursing a low self-esteem and umpteen anxieties about her new surroundings, Sonia gingerly navigates the peculiar yet charming customs, the spirituality and the spontaneity of her hosts. As Sonia’s bonds with her newfound family grow, and she falls in love with the countryside, she gains new perspectives, which allows her to fully embrace not only her own flawed self but also the people around her.
    Raajkart


  • I loved the atmospheric writing and the characters. It’s really evocative and completely sensuous - love the smells of the woodsmoke and the cumin in the first chapter. And it is brilliant how the author describes Sonia's appearance through Rekraj's eyes. Gives us a picture of her that shows what he values as well as what she looks like. A very economical and subtle solution to the problem of description, shown, not told.
    Margaret Spence


  • "The author's chief strength lies in her observation of Nepali culture -- she is careful to avoid a patronising 'them and us' perspective. Couple her sensitive approach with a dramatically unfolding plot and breezy, easy style, and readers clamouring for more since the release of her first Nepal book, are bound to be satisfied." 
    Saumya Balsari author of Summer of Blue & The Cambridge Curry Club


  • Written in controlled prose, Jane Wilson-Howarth's Snowfed Waters, the novel where Sonia Swayne's sojourn in Nepal is brought to life, is a remarkable example of culturespeak, the trajectories showing along familiar and the untrodden routes.

    Assam Tribune


  • Running away from the failures of her marriage and career in England, and the constant criticism of her unsympathetic mother, Sonia flees to Nepal and finds herself in a country of breathtaking natural beauty, populated by crocodiles and snakes and a people who, from a European perspective, seem somehow to be, at the same time, both courteous and callous.

    Told from the points of view of Sonia and people she encounters on her pilgrimage, the story rattles along through a landscape of delight and cultural misunderstandings to an earth shattering climax which leads Sonia to realise that she is not, after all, a failure.
    Helen Culnane of Cambridge Writers


  • This is a lovely story. The main protagonist, Sonia, is a 34 year old divorced woman with low self esteem and a host of health issues. On a whim, and with her doctor’s encouragement, Sonia leaves her life in Cambridge with all its painful associations, and travels out to Nepal to work for a charity - and with the vague idea of retracing her great-grandfather’s footsteps.
    After a rocky start, full of frustrations and misunderstandings, she gradually loses her English reserve and expectations and adapts to – and respects – the rhythm of life on the island of Rajapur, comes to care for the low caste family with whom she is staying and embrace their simple way of life.
    The author spent many years in Nepal – and it shows. She writes with an absolute assurance – and passion - about the people, the landscape and the flora and fauna of the country. Indeed, her descriptions are so vivid that the reader can almost smell the food, taste the sweet tea, see the vast yellow butterflies and the wonderfully colourful plants and exotic animals, breathe the mountain air and hear the hustle and bustle of the market.
    The story is told from a variety of viewpoints and, in this way, we have insight not only into what Sonia thinks of the people she meets but also what they think of her and how strange they find some of her attitudes and reactions. Because of the author’s in depth knowledge of the country, she is also able to explain the intricacies of the caste system and its implications, - for instance, the shock of her Brahmin (high caste) friends when she insists that young Moti, the daughter of her Tharu (low caste) hosts, is her companion when she goes trekking.
    And it is when she and Moti are on their trek that disaster strikes the island. Ironically it is the disaster which is Sonia’s saviour. Working with the wounded, snatching food and sleep when she can, she recognizes how trivial her own worries are when compared to the plight of those she treats. And finally, too, she feels valued and regains her self respect.
    When she returns to England and her old life, she is a very different person.
    This is a story of a complex, shattered woman and of the healing power of love as of the whole community finally recognize her true worth and no longer see her as an awkward foreigner with strange ideas but as a strong, compassionate woman who is prepared to work tirelessly to help them.
    A very readable and uplifting story, set in a beautifully described landscape.
    Rosemary Hayes, author


  • Snowfed Waters is cleverly written from the different perspectives of the main characters. This really adds depth to their lives, cultures, personalities and contrasting outlooks. I was drawn into the book with its easy style, creative description, intriguing plot, warm characters and frequent amusing moments. I read the book whilst trekking in Nepal and it gave me a wonderful feeling about the country's people through their eyes. It is a delightful read. I was always keen to pick it up with anticipation, as Sonia and her Nepalese hosts' lives draw together and the story takes you on an adventure with unexpected mishaps, joys and shocks.
    Doug Colton


  • Sonia arrives somewhat green in Nepal hoping to make a fresh start. Her travels in rural Nepal eventually take her up country on the trip of a lifetime. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventures of Sonia, Rekraj and the others as they made their way to the mountains. This is a Nepal far from the tourist route which is captured vividly and it brought back many memories. Then disaster struck and kept me on the edge of my seat! Jane Wilson-Howarth writes knowledgeably and fluently about the country and its people. Altogether a most enjoyable read.
    Douglas Harper


  • An extraordinary book.
    This book is one of those that is impossible to put down. Part travel, part adventure, the richness of vocabulary and the constant shift in perspective gripped my attention. It will appeal to a wide audience.
    Jill Pauling


  • ... beautifully narrated tale, interspersed with want and waste; horror and humour. Even the grimmest of situations may wrest a smile from the reader, and that is the beauty of Jane Wilson-Howarth’s craft.... A tale of courage and compassion; unlearning the past and embracing the future is magnificently woven that keeps you hooked throughout!
    The Tribune (India)


  • It seems it is not enough for Jane Wilson-Howarth to have got completely under the skin of an entire country because in ‘Snowfed Waters’ she also manages to create a refreshing and ingenious plot mechanism that propels the reader at light-speed through a wholly absorbing story about self-awareness, redemption and ultimately personal salvation.
    Each chapter contains the separate viewpoints of the six main characters; which provide the reader with a prismatic glance at the events as they unfold. Cultures clash from the start but as acceptance and understanding grow, the viewpoints become more unified. It is a skilful technique used subtly and with great verve. The book fairly fizzes with witty dialogue, unexpected plot twists and is set against the ravishingly described backdrop of the Himalayas.
    As principle protagonist Sonia (a burnt-out Cambridge teacher in search of change) finds her western sensibilities challenged by what she initially sees as a primitive, unhygienic and dangerous country, her Nepali hosts are equally dumbfounded by her inability to simply enjoy her life. As the story develops, we see her growth not only through her eyes but also from the viewpoint of her hosts and new friends. This enriches our understanding of her self-discovery enormously.
    Jane Wilson-Howarth’s understanding of Nepalese life is borne not only from her extended time living in the country but from her empathetic understanding of what ‘culture’ means and how it manifests itself both to those living in a place and to the bewildered outsiders who visit Nepal. Her great skill is to have taken a place she knows intimately and to have re-populated it with a cast of characters who leap from the pages into your memory. This book is far more than ‘travel literature’, it is a heartfelt examination of what it means to be an outsider – either as an individual or an entire nation.
    An enthralling and absorbing read (it’s also a book begging to be filmed!)
    Tim Hooper


  • Snowfed Waters is a tribute to the indomitable human spirit and to the human ability to love and bond with strangers over shared tragedies. Thus tragedy doesn’t remain a villain but becomes something that unites people belonging to different places, culture and languages. In today’s world, this is a lesson we all need to imbibe in ourselves, and that is the reason this book is important, something every reader can relate to.
    Nilesh Mondal in kitaab.org


  • Sonia escapes to Nepal only to find no escape from herself. In a confrontation with another culture that becomes more life-enhancing and a land more life-threatening than anything she has ever experienced before, her overwhelming problems back in England gradually transform into trifling matters for her. Meanwhile her Nepalese employer Rekraj and hostess Guliya aren’t quite sure what to make of this obviously disturbed Westerner, but then Guliya’s teenaged daughter Moti befriends Sonia and adventures ensue. Told from five points of view and voices that weave together a rich tapestry of cultural confrontation, this story deftly draws one into minds with very different perspectives.
    The transformative effect of Nature in full flow is another character in this story. Its voice underpins and carries the tale like the river that becomes so important in Sonia’s reinvention. This journey that Sonia undertakes to heal herself is a guidebook on how to become whole by facing reality and by learning how not to suffer from the fairytales we create for ourselves. When we do confront reality, we might just notice a more satisfying magic begins to unfold inside and all around us.
    Amy Corzine author of The Secret Life of the Universe


  • This is an adventure to Nepal for the reader. Wilson-Howarth's descriptions of countryside, wildlife, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds are so alive and engaging that I felt as if I really was there. Her assured depiction of Nepali society and culture is even more gripping and informative, if that's possible. Wilson-Howarth, a Cambridge GP, draws on long experience of living and practising medicine in Nepal. The story is told by several of the characters, English Sonia on her first visit to this magical, totally foreign country, and Nepalis of different castes. So we readers grasp the culture clash in a way which is touching and often amusing. This page-turner makes gentle fun of many cultural misunderstandings. I recommend Snowfed Waters to anyone because if you want to learn to write, read this to learn how; it's an amazing travel account from a master in the field, a gripping and very human story of personal development, and a joyful experience of writerly writing.
    Dr Gillie E J Bolton, author


  • The characters are delightful, especially the way the Nepalese see things so, so differently . . .
    Sally Radnor, Cambridge Writers


  • Following her own quietly gut-wrenching memoir, A Glimpse of Eternal Snows, Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth - Wanderlust's resident GP for the past 20 years - returns to Nepal in more fictional form for Snowfed Waters. Sonia is the downcast singleton-turned-charity worker whose richly drawn adventures in the Himalaya force her to rethink her low self-esteem. 

    Wanderlust magazine


  • This book captures the sights, smells and drama of Nepal. Told in the first person in alternating scenes by Sonia, a neurotic Englishwoman who has come to Nepal to heal from the emotional bruises of a broken marriage and the loss of a job, and Rekraj, her Nepali guide and Guliya, the Nepali woman with whom Sonia lives, the story hinges on cultural misunderstandings, until a natural disaster shows strength of character that springs from deep within, a universal human trait.
    I raced through this book. It's a page turner, vividly told.
     
    Maggie S


  • Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful - the best book I've read in a long while. Up-lifting, fun and inspirational....
    Mary Styles


  • … Another super story, is Jane Wilson-Howarth's Snowfed Waters, her fictional sequel to her non-fiction book, A Glimpse of Eternal Snows. Jane, who is based in Cambridge, spoke at Words in Walden a few years ago about her very moving experiences in Nepal on which A Glimpse is  based. And it is immediately clear when you read Snowfed Waters that it is shot through with cultural insights and anecdotes which could only have come from personal experience.
    The story is related through five voices - Sonia, the English woman travelling to Nepal, Rekraj, a young Nepali man who has been appointed to look after her; Guliya Tharu, a Nepali village woman, Regimental Sergeant-Major Bom Bahadur Gurung, and Moti, a Nepali teenage girl. Much of the humour in the story comes from their often perplexed accounts of each other's reactions to particular circumstances, highlighting their false cultural assumptions.
    Rekraj, for example reports on the following exchange between himself and Sonia:-
    '"Where exactly is England in America?"
    She is angry when she answers. "England is NOT in America. England, Britain actually, is very, very different!"
    I do not know how I have offended her. I feel I should apologise but I do not see what the problem is. Perhaps she has tasted some alcoholic drinks...'
    Very quickly one warms to each of these characters and the story, which becomes unexpectedly dramatic and is full of vivid local description, unfolds through their joint narrative. This is a really lovely, uplifting, gloriously humane read.
    Jo Burch in Hub Magazine (Saffron Walden)


  • I have been enjoying Snowfed Waters as bedtime reading while we have been going through the turmoil of moving house. Reading this novel has given welcome periods of tranquillity. The author is to be congratulated on writing such a good story. I think that writing dialogue is very difficult but she has mastered it. I am convinced this would also make a good play or it could even be the inspiration for a block-buster film in the style of The Best Marigold Hotel but aimed at a much younger audience who would identify with the adventure. I definitely think it is worth great acclaim. 
    Dr J A W


  • Where to buy

    A Kindle version is now available and is cheaper through this website than via amazon.

     
    Physical books can be ordered from www.feedaread.com, or contact me directly.

    The Delhi-based publisher Speaking Tiger relaunched a brand new edition of Snowfed Waters in the subcontinent in March 2017. The earthquake and the political problems pushed back the launch - thrice! Readers in South Asia may buy from them via this link enjoy Snowfed Waters or from Raajkart

    It is currently in stock at Pilgrims, Wisdom, Patan Bookshop, Page Turner and other good book shops in Kathmandu.

    If you are in Nepal, I'll be hanging out and selling my books at the Summit Hotel Christmas Market, Kupendole Height from 10.30am until eightish on Sunday 9th December 2018.