The Circle of Karma was notoriously hard to find – I ordered the book about three months ago from my bookseller but have been getting regular emails since that delivery is delayed, and delayed, and … delayed. The library has one copy of it, which was already taken by someone, but at last, after a one month wait for the library copy, I was able to read this hidden little gem by Kunyang Choden.
With this book, I set foot into the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan, a South Asian country that, in the last years, has been mostly in the news for measuring gross national happiness. I have watched a few documentaries about Bhutan, so at least this time I was reading a book from a country that I somehow had a picture of in my mind – lots of lush green mountains with mountain fog, small cities, hard-working population.
The Circle of Karma tells the story of Tsomo, who grows up in a small Bhutanese village. Being the daughter of a very religious man, she keeps her strong faith throughout her – often difficult life – but, unlike her brothers, she is not permitted to learn how to read and write. Tsomo’s life is dictated by decisions that people around her take; being acutely aware of her own short-comings of being a woman in a patriarchal society as well as being illiterate, Tsomo only makes her own decisions when life leaves her no other chance.
Kunzang Choden does not paint a very positive picture of the relationship between men and women, and a recurring and very prominent theme of the book is how women are impaired, scrutinised, and instrumentalised by the physicality of their bodies and their function as child-bearers. Tsomo’s mother dies during child-birth, Tsomo gives birth to a dead child, Tsomo’s best friend needs to go through a purification ritual because she got pregnant without being married, while the father of the child gets away without repercussions.
At the end of the book, Tsomo finds her happiness in religion; although it stays unclear whether she really finds happiness or if her escape to religion is motivated by the same themes as her life choices before – obedience, clinging to certain people as her saviours, search for meaning. In the end, The Circle of Karma is a book about surviving; about living through tough times and not despairing when things don’t seem to get better. And while Tsomo’s life does not become perfect by the end of the story, she learns to live with each and every obstacle life puts in her way.
I would absolutely love to see this book made into a gigantic Hollywood movie, and I hope that many more people will find their way to this wonderful book.
Title: The Circle of Karma Author: Kunzang Choden First published: 2005