“The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes”

Many people have had the experience of wanting to run to a place far, far away when a personal crisis hits. In “The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes”, Barbara J. Scot recounts how she did this when she faced the empty nest of her children leaving. On some level, she needed to redefine herself as an individual rather than switching roles with the adults she raised by living solely through them. An avid naturalist, runner, and climber, she sought this redefinition halfway a world away from her Oregon home by going to the country of Nepal. Here, she hoped to find the self that she felt that she had somehow forgotten along the way.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out the way that she planned, at least initially. She doesn’t expect the loneliness she encounters, and the natural environment does nothing to assuage her emptiness. And her timing for arrival turns out to not be so good, either. Scot arrived in Nepal just as the Persian Gulf War was breaking out, and she found that most people were not looking at Americans in a favorable light. An opponent of the war, she found herself agreeing with the criticism, but yet put in the awkward position of being a representative of the country she loved but opposed on the military front. She saw how hard it was to get herself separated from strangers who seemed to have a hard time distinguishing the two, and gave the impression that she was always on edge for being entwined in that association.

In time, Scot finds herself able to relate to some of the Nepali women, better in fact then some of the Western women she comes into contact with. Scot invariably finds herself comparing her life as a Western women with the women of the country, comparing lifestyles and mores. In an environment slower than the hectic pace of her industrialized life, Scot finds time to evaluate and compare what she sees in a way that may have been too rushed in her life back home. It is a pace where perhaps, if she were to carry it back to the States, some might say she has too much time to worry. But here, it seems a natural state, as natural as the beauty that takes Scot’s breath away. It is a pace compatible with her transformation, and she finds that the people she had come to teach have much to teach her, especially the women. “The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes” comes from what she sees in these women, who have been taught inferiority and to subsume themselves to men. It is through the lens of these mirrors where Scot finds her lessons.

“The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes” is a decent book, if a little slow paced. Sometimes it seems the narration rambles, and I found myself getting easily distracted. It seems sometimes Scot includes material just to fill up the pages, and I found myself asking, what was the point of that? But perhaps that was the point: this is a snapshot of lessons, one that is focused more on the exterior reflecting the interior, the latter of which is something that can seem rambling indeed. Scot has come to transform, and this is what the text reflects, even when describing the Annapurna.

Scot also seems weighted by white man’s burden, and what the violet shyness reflects back to her in that burden. Sometimes her guilt seems self-serving, after all, she was the one who volunteered her time in Nepal to help forget her own problems. Despite this flaw, the book is an interesting overview of a Westerner’s social commentary on Nepal. Scot is not so self-absorbed as to blur her surroundings out. Overall, it is not a bad travel narrative to read if you are interested in how Western aid affects developing countries, or want to know the general geography of Nepal. It is best read as a person seeking self-fulfillment and definition in a foreign land. Sometimes it takes a journey to do just that.

2 Responses to ““The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes””

  1. Kathy T says:

    This is an interesting book review, in that it shows how Scot learns something from the women of Nepal. It is good to notice that Scot is not so self absorbed that she blots out her surrounding to quote what Jessica writes. I know that Nepal is a poor country hear India.

    • Jessica says:

      Hi Kathy, thank you for commenting. Scot’s perspective seems to reflect the stereotype of how a Western individual thinks she is going to save the Third World from itself, but she gets changed instead and finds she has a lot to learn from them. The lesson seems to be, at least what I take from it, is that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student in this world.