Thinking back, not sure what exactly caught my eye. I found the lonely book on an almost empty shelf of just-about-to-shut-down (and now extinct) Borders on Broad Street, Philadelphia. Had never read anything about the book neither did the author’s name – Conor Greenan – sound familiar.
Maybe it was the bright blue color of the ancient wooden door that takes the entire front cover; maybe it was the cute little boy sitting by such a monumental door, by contrast so small, with those beautiful almond-shaped eyes and a shy smile on his chubby face. Little Princes, read the title. One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. I rushed to the cashier, passing by dozens of empty book shelves. It’s always sad when a bookstore closes forever. At least from this one I had been able to rescue a book I couldn’t wait to start reading, for no reason at all – I just knew it would be good. I always know when a book is going to be good.
My heart goes to the kids in those distant Asian countries, whose lives are so harsh compared with the children’s in this country. Nepal is also near Tibet and that’s another subject that makes my heart beat faster and angrily. Tibet, in most maps of our days, just the name of an area that belongs to China now; not a sovereign country anymore. But that’s another story, maybe for another blog post one of these days.
I never met the author and all my knowledge about the not-for-profit he founded comes from what is available on the Web:www.nextgenerationnepal.org. But before I read the last page of his book I knew I wanted to try to do something to help, other than sending an occasional charitable contribution. At work, no one seemed particularly inspired by my attempts to divulge the cause though (my own fault; I probably did not try hard enough and in the right way). So I decided the least I could do was to write about it as the inaugural post in this blog. If I could get one more person interested in Conor’s Little Princes, one more visitor to click the link to the Next Generation Nepal site, it would be an accomplishment (Little Princes is published by Harper Collins – www.harpercollins.com and it is also available at www.amazon.com . A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to Next Generation Nepal).
Back in 2004, Conor was just this twenty-nine-year-old guy who decided to quit his job, embarking on a full year trip around the world, starting with three months of voluntary work at an orphanage in Nepal – Little Princes Children’s Home. At this point in the book, Conor started to sound slightly like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, but I kept turning the pages.
Ignoring the pamphlets and brochures about volunteering in Nepal which alerted to the fact the country was going through a civil war (in Conor’s words, he thought whoever had written those materials was just doing what he did most of times: Exaggerating), he was ready to go.
It was funny and painfully candid the way Conor describes his own behavior before leaving for Nepal, bragging about his voluntary work initiative to women he met in bars, trying to make himself look good and caring and mature to the eyes of potential dates. Little did Conor know the upcoming months would turn him into a totally different man, a genuine American superhero to some fortunate kids in Nepal and their impoverished families. As the story develops, the only similarity between Conor and the character Julia Roberts plays in Eat, Pray, Love is that in the end Mr. Greenan does find the love of his life.
Among numerous trials and tribulations, real and life-threatening, and heartfelt passages about Conor’s work with the children (assisted by remarkable friends, some voluntary workers like him), it is revealed the tragic story of the so called orphans. As Conor would find out, hundreds if not thousands of kids had been brought to Katmandu, Nepal’s capital, by child traffickers.
In exchange for the safety of their sons and daughters, families in remote villages and farm land would sell everything they possessed, anxious to protect their children from abduction by the Maoist militia who often forced young kids to join the rebel army against Nepal’s royal government. For huge fees and under the promise of taking them to safety, traffickers would then just abandon the kids, mostly boys and some as young as three or four years old, far from their homes, on the streets of convoluted Katmandu.
Injured and facing the dangers of a civil war (1996-2006) through the mountains of Nepal, Conor perseveres in his commitment to reunite the children he came to love (and the reader will too, if not by the description of how brave, resilient and docile the kids are, then through the several color photos in the book – little faces smiling to the camera) and their families. By the way, Conor writes very well and in addition to the abundant color pictures, Little Princes is neatly done, with a handsome hard cover, good quality paper and excellent printing– a real pleasure to handle.
A couple of days after finishing Little Princes, I found myself walking back to the bookstore in Center City. Another direction now, instead of Broad Street, toward Rittenhouse square, home of sole survivor Barnes & Noble. And wondering that Hollywood should turn the story of Conor’s little princes into a blockbuster movie, perhaps the sensation of next year’s Oscar awards evening in L.A. The main actor would have to be pale, tall and skinny, judging by the photos in Little Princes. Adrian Brody? Ryan Reynolds? Casey Affleck? Paul Rudd? If you actually buy and read the book, it would be interesting to hear who you think could play the part…