Friday, April 15, 2011

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

by Conor Grennan
New York, William Morrow, 2010
294 pages    Memoir

Occasionally a book comes along that converts the cynical me to the inspired me. Little Princes by Conor Grennan is such a book. It is the memoir of a brash and earnest young man who finds meaning for his life and his life’s work among some lost children in Nepal.

A few years out of college, Conor Grennan plans a trek around the world, a frequent rite of passage for young adults. Feeling that such a trip would be slightly self-indulgent, he decides to spend three months on a service project of some sort—to give the trip purpose and also to serve as something to brag about. “Yeah. I spent some time helping poor orphans in Nepal.”

He arrives at the Little Princes Children’s Home outside Katmandu, Nepal, knowing nothing about children and nothing about what he would be doing. He is at first charmed by the children and then finds that he likes being with them. Very quickly he finds himself feeling parental to the children, who giggle, climb all over him, and love him unconditionally. A year after his first stint, he returned to Little Princes because he missed the children so much. Almost by accident, Conor and his coworker Farid discover that the children are not orphans at all, but children that had been trafficked from the Nepalese hinterlands—an area called Humla. Promising he will give the children a better life, the trafficker took the children from their homes and walked them for days out of the mountains to Katmandu where they were either sold into slavery or became beggars, or worse, on the streets of the city.

Conor becomes convinced that he has a duty to try to find the parents of the children and goes back to the United States to raise some money and start a foundation, Next Generation Nepal, which will pay for a building and staff to house other lost children, and which will also allow teams to comb the villages of the Humla area for the parents of the children. When he returns to Nepal, he puts his plan into action, buying a house for the children and planning trips into the mountains, pictures of the children in hand.

The most touching part of the book comes when Conor and his team find the parents for many of the children and show them pictures of their lost children. This is when the book turns from being a tidy little memoir to being one that tugs at your heartstrings. “I once was lost, and now am found.”

The book is also a love story, one that begins with an email friendship between Conor and a young American woman named Liz, who visits him in Nepal, falls in love with the children, just as Conor has, and at book’s end, becomes his wife.

Conor Grennan is a person of optimism and hope. His exuberance lifts the reader’s spirit just as his tenderness and passion warms the soul. One passage tells it all. When Conor finds the mother of Amita, a little girl at the home, he has this to say: “She reminded me, somehow of my own mother…in the look she gave me, that expectant and fearful look my mother wore every time I saw her at the airport…Amita’s mother had that look now; thrilled at the possibility of news of her daughter but terrified that the news might be bad, that her daughter might be sick or hurt or lost. I wanted to comfort her like I comforted my own mother. I wanted to tell her that her daughter was a shining star in our lives, that we adored her. I wanted to tell her that Amita missed her deeply, that she only wanted to come home, that nothing and nobody could ever take her place in her daughter’s mind.”

This is a very satisfying read. Last year, I read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, another story of a man inspired by the children of a mountainous area and finds his life’s work among them. While Greg’s response is more measured and his passion more low key, Conor’s enthusiasm is boundless and his love for the children is limitless. We are inspired by Conor’s actions, concerned by the problems he faced and continues to face as he takes these children home, and cheered by the resilience of children who face insurmountable odds with such joy, industriousness and humor.

Conor Grennan’s website and blog:

The website for Next Generation Nepal:

An interview where Conor Grennan tells his story:

I received this book from the publicist and thank her for the opportunity to read such an inspiring book.

No comments: