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Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan

Author: Jamie Zeppa

The anthology is about the Canadian author’s early days in Bhutan when she went to lecture there. She describes the local area and the people she meets along the way. The title of the book is derived from an expression of thankfulness in the Bhutanese language, which means 'I am thankful to you beyond the earth and sky'. “Beyond the Sky and the Earth”- the title may also be interpreted as hyperbolic, highlighting a sense of adventure and emphasising the great distance she’s travelled.

Summary:

  • The anthology depicts the rather mysterious country of Bhutan.

  •  Metaphorical and vivid imagery is utilised to highlight the aesthetic beauty of this rather unknown world. The writer describes her unique and captivating journey and her daily life in Bhutan.

  • It highlights the theme of preservation of traditional values with the onset of modernity and westernisation.

  •  Phrases such as ‘powdered milk’ highlight the lack of luxuries to which the writer would have been accustomed in Canada.

Structure:  

  • The anthology is in the first-person narrative and written in the form of a memoir with anecdotes interspersed with facts, making the anthology informative and engaging.

  •  It is structured well (each paragraph with a different purpose). Most of the sentences use lists to explain it further. The use of anecdotes and sentences of various lengths engage the reader. The anthology begins with a description of the country’s landscape and switches between past and present tense, as the journey from Canada is recalled, and the present tense as Zeppa takes the reader into her first night and day in Thimphu. There are pithy (concise) character sketches of two fellow Canadian teachers, a detailed description of the city and a discussion of qualities of the Bhutanese people. The final paragraph ends with Zeppa’s statement of admiration for the country.

  •  The anthology illustrates a hybrid of tones that are informative and entertaining. The tone has a positive connotation throughout.

  • “The winter air is thin and dry and very cold”- the syndetic listing here exaggerates the conditions. The tone here is factual/informative with little sense of excitement because she uses “and” instead of commas Meaning:

  • The author is explaining her awe of Bhutanese culture. The anthology is factual and entertaining. She describes the cultural differences, the lack of westernisation and preservation of Bhutanese culture, her new experiences as she travels. It is about the personal awakenings and realizations that she had while living there.​​​

Imagery:

  •  I watch as the mountains rise to meet the moon”- the personification here highlights how big the mountains are. The quote presents romantic imagery- a sense of wonder.

  • “Lorna has brown-hair…” “Sasha from British Colombia”- the descriptive detail given about the girls in contrast to Gordon suggests that she is closer with the girls.

  • “It doesn’t even have traffic lights”- the short sentence offers a tone of disappointment.

  •  “The buildings all have the same-pitched roofs…”- listing here

  •  “At the end of the main road is Taschiccho Dzong…”- descriptive imagery.

  •  “They have beautiful aristocratic faces with dark, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones and gentle smiles.”- descriptive detail describes the people as aesthetically striking and friendly.

Language:

  • There is a lot of factual, informative language that is enlivened by lively description, full of repetition, listing carefully-chosen adjectives and verbs that evoke a sense of place. The traditional names of Bhutan and its districts are poetic and suggestive of the beauty to be found there.

  • “Again and again”- repetition emphasises the vast landscape.

  • “Is all and only mountains”- the word ‘only’ connotes a sense of negativity as it describes Bhutan as only mountains (almost as if there’s not much else to it). This may be because she’s intimidated as she is a long way from home and has never seen a landscape like this before.

  • “But I cannot imagine it”- the landscape is beyond comprehension- she is in awe.

  • “It is easier to picture a giant child gathering earth in great armfuls, piling up rock, pinching mud into ridges and sharp peaks, knuckling out little valleys and gorges, poking holes for water to fall through.”- personification is seen here. The words in bold are plosives and reflect the harsh terrain that she’s witnessing for the first time. The terrain is unknown to her.

  •  “My first night”- a fresh experience- explains why she’s feeling intimidated by the terrain.

  •  “T took five-different flights over four days...” listing here emphasises her long journey.

  •  “I am exhausted but cannot sleep”- she is juxtaposing herself.

  • “On the other side of mountains are mountains, more mountains and more mountains again” the repetition here explains the endless of the terrain. She feels quite isolated and overwhelmed. She may be in awe.

  •  “A convulsion of crests and gorges and wind-sharpened pinnacles”- the plosives illustrate the violent terrain. Again, it illustrates the isolation and apprehensiveness she feels because she is new to the country.

  •  “instant coffee, powdered milk, plasticky white bread and flavourless red jam” the adjectives suggest that she is unimpressed by the food.

  •  “It’s even smaller”- emphasises the limits of Bhutan

  •  “Stale, soft cookies”, and “hideously-coloured” the language used here portray signs of judgement and dislike.

  •  “Teenagers in acid-washed jeans… a Rambo poster in a bar”- the modernism is decades behind. The sentence here highlights the difference in culture.

  •  “Cracked sidewalks and faded paintwork” “it didn’t exist thirty-odd years ago” the quote highlights a surprising juxtaposition. The adverb “actually” indicates her surprise in the sentence after.

  •  “Thimphu will look like New York” - the simile indicates a paradox of two different worlds.

  •  “Thimphu will never look like New York to me”- juxtaposes what others say.

  • She expresses her wonder and admiration in line 49 “The Bhutanese are very handsome people, the best build race of men I ever saw.” This is a turning point in the anthology.

  • “Thimphu’s small but friendly “expat” community”- the word “ ‘expat’ ” is written in quotes suggesting a sarcastic tone as there aren’t many immigrants in Bhutan. The community may become a source of companionship and comfort to her and help her feel more at home.

  •  “Explaining politely in impeccable English”- has a positive perception of the people.

  •  “Impresses me most-dignity, unselfconsciousness, good humour, grace- but can find no single world to hold all of my impressions.” the listing here emphasises how in awe she is.

  • “Historical records show that waves of Tibetan immigrants settled in Bhutan…” the paragraph here has an informative and factual tone to it. The extent to detail reflects her interest and with that comes her newfound respect for the country as well. ● “Rainbow District of Desires, Lotus Grove of Gods, Blooming Valley of Luxuriant Fruits…”- the quote emphasises the beauty of the country and its deep history.

  •  “While the rest of Asia was being overrun by European of varying hue but similar cry, only a handful of Westerners found their way into Bhutan.”- the juxtaposition indicates Bhutan’s different culture compared to other countries in Asia.

  •  “Had his back slapped, his hair pulled, and his face rubbed with wet dough”- the triad is unbiased as it shows both sides of Bhutan. It juxtaposes the beauty she described.

  •  “Remarkable”- she is impressed by Bhutan and expresses her admiration and deep appreciation for the country

  •  “I am full of admiration for this small country that has managed to look after itself so well”- the short sentence clearly expresses a positive connotation of Bhutan. The quote is a contrast to the beginning of the text. However, it could be perceived as patronising.

Effect on the reader:

  •  The anthology gives the reader insight into the difference in culture.

  •  The structure and language of the anthology engage the reader throughout. The mix of personal experiences and history creates depth and engages the reader.

  •  The anthology is abundant in positive connotations.

  •  The factual knowledge displayed informs the reader of the history of Bhutan.

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