This is my review of Les chemins de Katmandou by Rene Barjavel.
Beautiful but mentally fragile, Jane is shattered to catch her father with his lover. Anchorless, she drifts on the hippy trail to Katmandu. The young Frenchman Olivier travels there as well, but for very different reasons. He is an angry young man, the bitterness over his unknown father and affectionate but neglectful mother twisted into an aggressive desire for change, leading him to fight on the barricades in the violent Paris student demonstrations of 1968, which leave him disillusioned.
Nostalgia for the '60s drew me to this novel, although Barjavel, who was almost sixty when he wrote this, has an older man's contempt for the hippies' self-delusion in seeking mystical peace and love in drugs. At first, I felt unengaged by the fragmented storyline and scenes of gratuitous violence involving characters I had not been given time to know. Then, I was hooked by the highly visual descriptions of Nepal. These aspects all seem to stem from the fact that the novel was in fact based on the 1969 film for which Barjavel wrote the script.
Often gripping and moving, sometimes ludicrous, even a little crass, this book is "a good read", but it has a thread of negativity – "What's the point of anything?" I took from this book the message that life is transient, we are all "dust to dust". Western materialist, "can do" culture may be pointless and eastern fatalism and acceptance closer to the mark, but once you have gained a sense of the rational, and the need to act, it is hard to lose it.