Bringing Progress to ParadiseI enjoy reading books about people striving to help others, and I was very enthusiastic when I got this book about Mr. Rasley's desires to help a quiet village in Nepal. It seemed very much to be in the pattern of Three Cups of Tea. I therefore have mixed feelings about the book.
I want to make it clear first that I greatly admire Mr. Rasley's desires to help others and the great efforts he went through to make that happen. It is quite inspirational. It could be said that any book which encourages people on that path is a good thing. Still, though, it can also be said that the purpose of editors is to make sure a book is free of technical issues and runs along smoothly. Editors are supposed to help polish and rearrange a book so it does its job in the best possible way. I feel the editors in this case did not do a good enough job in bringing forth Mr. Rasley's story to its fullest potential.
First, the basics of the story. Mr. Rasley, living in the central US, decided at some point to visit Nepal. He was caught up in its allure. He decided to help the village of Basa by fixing up their school. He went through a lot of work to raise the money for that task, and then planned a casual hiking trip with a group of friends to go visit the village and make sure everything was set before he handed over the money. Things went awry, and his quiet trip turned into a serious hiking trek which stressed the abilities of the group. Eventually three of the group made it to the village (with their entourage of a great many local porters, cooks, etc.). The book is the full story of everything - from the earlier hikes where Mr. Rasley gets the idea to the ending where you hear about what is happening next after the main trip.
Next, the texture. Mr. Rasley gives some though to important issues. The mountains used to be quiet and serene, and now they are coated with litter from all of the tourists. But it's hard to say "keep all tourists out" because Nepal is one of the poorest countries outside of Africa. The average income is $1 a day. The locals point out that - if you had to hike 2 hours to get water, and you were offered the ability to have running water in your house instead, wouldn't you jump at that opportunity? If you had traditional clothes that were cold and cumbersome, and instead you could get warm, snuggly, easy to wear clothes, wouldn't you want to make that switch? Mr. Rasley is very thoughtful about the issues of giving the locals what they need without destroying what is special about their culture.
So I greatly appreciate the task he has taken on, and the thought he has put into the issues. These are not the problem. It is with the way the story is presented that I have some concerns.
First, there are issues with typos and incorrect use of words and so on. That most definitely should have been cleaned up by the editorial team. The story is laid out with a lot of jumps in time and place. The jumping around means you really don't have a chance to connect with the characters or their personality until well into the book. Several of the jumps are done in a vague way which interrupts the flow. It would do much better if it was laid out in a more "story like" fashion, where you build up relationships with the characters and get to know them. Technical terms are constantly tossed into the story without explanation. I've read numerous books about this region so I understood what was going on, but if he was writing for a general audience, he needed to put more effort into describing what items and terms meant as he went, to keep the reader engaged.
The story is supposed to draw us into the beauty of Nepal and its people - but we hear very little about any of that. We barely hear what many locations look like, what they smelled like, what the fragrances were, what the sound of the voices were like. Instead of feeling like we are being transported to a new culture, the book is constructed with a straightforward set of statements "He went there. He said this. Then he went there. Then he said that." We are told, not shown, what happened. In many cases it could have been taking place in a section of Colorado, for all the immersive feel we receive.
By far, though, my biggest issue is with the characters in the story. There were several times where, if I were not finishing this book for a review, I might have put it down. I had that little connection with the characters. It is almost like reading a snippy soap opera where everyone is making nasty comments about each other. Mr. Rasley starts maligning his fellow team members almost right from the start, which makes him look very unsympathetic. He whines about one member, Bill, not feeling the peace and serenity of Nepal - that he's wanting to rush too much rather than be patient. Then **Mr. Rasley** is the one racing ahead of the group, abandoning them behind him - and then even worse, when he is hiking with one other person in the dark, he abandons this guy in the dark on his own! What kind of a "tour planner" abandons people solo in a strange country in the dark? He's barking (his word) at his companions because they aren't meeting his expectations.
This abandoning activity wasn't a one time anomaly. It is pretty much the way he works. One of the women is in a lot of pain, so he promptly abandons her and figures the other guy will take good enough care of her. He's got other more important things to do. Like give the middle finger to local Nepal children! I'm not making that up. This is a man who ridicules others for not having enough serenity and patience in their lives?
By the time he was abandoning his group for the Nth time, snarling in anger at another trail he took the wrong turn on, and being grumpy about how his not-perfectly-prepared group was dragging down his hiking trip, I just felt my energy levels ebbing. He was demonstrating to me exactly what I did *not* like to hear about. I was looking to read about the beauty of Nepal, the wonderful benefits this new school would bring to the local children, and the way in which the team was able to overcome the many hurdles they hit. And yes, Mr. Rasley mentions these things - briefly - amongst his long, continual rants about how XX brought the wrong sleeping bag and how YY talked too much and ZZ played music at night instead of listening to natural sounds. But Mr. Rasley himself should have taken his own advice. *HE* should have been listening to the natural sounds, breathing in the peace and serenity, and being the gentle, guiding force for this group he had gathered. Instead he was exactly what he was ranting against continually - the person who was not listening, who was trying to force his own agenda, who found every opportunity to grump and complain and find fault, instead of being accepting, compromising, and caring.
Normally I pass the books I finish on to friends so they can enjoy them too, but I am not sure who I would want to give this to, when they are so many other great books out there that tell similar stories and focus on the positive aspects. Reading this is like an energy drain. In fact when I had first begun this review I had given it 4 stars but after writing all of this and thinking about it again, I'm going to give it 3. It had such great potential, and all those pearls were in there - but the nastiness and grumpiness and focus on all the "stupid team members and their stupid choices" felt completely unnecessary. Sure, people make mistakes. We all do. We're human. You can acknowledge them with grace and understanding, rather than with ranting and snideness. And again, this is where a good team of editors would have directed the author to make that change.
If anything, reading this book encourages me to be even *more* understanding and forgiving of the people around me, because I would never want to be perceived by others as this type of personality. I would never be one to abandon my teammates, and I would hope that I would treat their mistakes and slip-ups with a smile and encouragement.
So with that thought, I encourage the editing team to make a renewed pass at working on this book, and to come out with a second version that lives up to its potential.
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