- Little Princes by Conor Grennan
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 27, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0061930065
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): An astonishing testament to true courage, the transformative power of love, and the ability of one man to make a real difference.
In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war–torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from — a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.
Where and when does it take place: Little Princes begins in the summer of 2004, when Conor Grennan began a 3-month volunteer post at an orphanage in Nepal. He’s frank in saying that this was the first stop a planned year-long around-the-world trip; he had left his “day job” and was looking to travel and have fun. He did travel and have fun, but not in the ways he expected. He also encountered a horrible truth, and was motivated to make a change.
Little Princes Children’s Home is in Godavari, a village only six miles from Kathmandu. That six miles makes the difference between a busy, loud, crowded space and a rural, remote, slower-paced existence.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: Conor Grennan had no previous experience with kids – he wasn’t sure how to interact with these youth. The universality of kicking around a ball, pick-up games, and human interaction soon had him connecting with the children at Little Princes Children’s Home.
One day (through an event that had me reaching for Kleenex – the first of many times I was emotionally struck during this read), Grennan realized that these children were not all orphans. Many had been taken from their families during the civil war by child traffickers. In exchange for a family’s entire savings, they promised to keep the child safe; instead, many were abandoned in the jungle. That civil war was still going on when Grennan arrived in Kathmandu – it began in 1996, ran ten years, and claimed over 13,000 casualties.
I was pulled in by the story that Grennan unfolded, and followed closely his quest to reunite the children of Little Princes with their birth families. His determination, often in the face of setbacks, showed what a struggle there is in the area, even today. Color photos of the children, their homes, and rural Nepal, add a sense of “documentary” to the book.
This is not only the story of Conor Grennan and the children of Little Princes, it’s a contemporary history lesson, and an important book.
However … Grennan met his wife while in Nepal, and we watch as that courtship unfolds. I’m all for romance, and I understand that Liz is an integral part of Next Generation Nepal, but I could have used a little bit less about their relationship (sorry if that makes me sound like a curmudgeon!)
Why did I read it: I read an early copy of the book before its hardcover publication in February 2011 (paperback came out in December 2011). A bookshop customer was talking about his disappointment in Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) after last year’s scandal, and I offered Grennan’s Little Princes as a way to redeem the genre. That reminded me that – although I recommended it on last year’s Newburyport Lit Fest panel – I had yet to put my thoughts down on the blog.
A few favorite passages: From the very first chapter, Grennan looks back at his attitude and expectations before he left the US. I love this passage because he’s basically laughing at himself and how out of touch he was with what he was about to encounter:
“An orphanage in Nepal, for two months,” I would tell women I’d met in bars. “Sure, there’s a civil war going on. And yes, it might be dangerous. But I can’t think about that,” I would shout over the noise of the bar, trying to appear misty-eyed. “I have to think about the children.”
And this gives you a sense of the desperation parents felt; they would do anything, give all that they had, to keep their children from getting into the hands of the Maoist rebels [p.77]:
[His] mother and father begged [the child trafficker] to take their children. It would be expensive, they understood, but they would pay anything. To raise the money, they sold their home and moved into single-room huts with their neighbors. They sold their land, their livestock. They borrowed from distant relatives. They would be going into debt for the rest of their lives, putting the rest of their family at risk, but it was worth every rupee to save their boys from the Maoist army. In villages throughout Humla, other parents were taking the same drastic step to save their children.
What else can I add: The paperback edition was issued in December 2011; it’s a good choice for book discussion groups, with a Reading Guide to Little Princes available online. You can also find more information about Next Generation Nepal, the organization Grennan founded in 2006. NGN’s mission statement is: “Next Generation Nepal preserves family unity and strengthens communities by reconnecting trafficked children with their parents and culture in post-conflict Nepal.”