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July 2, 2012

Little Princes




Nonfiction/Current Affairs
2011 Harper Audio
Audio: Read by Conor Grennan
Finished 6/13/12
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)









Publisher’s 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.

About the Author:

After volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home in the village of Godawari in 2004, Conor Grennan eventually returned to Nepal to launch Next Generation Nepal (NGN), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting trafficked children with their families. He resides in Connecticut with his wife and two children.


After a disappointing experience with Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, I had no interest in reading about another supposedly selfless endeavor. But when I read Joy and Nancy’s glowing reviews, I couldn’t resist. Joy gave it a personal rating of 5/5 (absolutely outstanding) and said:

I felt so many emotions while listening to this book. The joy in "Conor-Brother's" success was the most inspiring, but the way in which Conor shares his story was delightful. He had a sense of humor that made me giggle often, and yet, he also had a very serious side that made me choke up with sadness when he described some of his experiences with the children and locals.

The audiobook version was absolutely awesome! I loved the accents and cadence of the reader, which just so happened to be the author himself. Well done. (Joy, of Thoughts of Joy)

And Nancy wrote:

I cannot say enough good things about Little Princes. The author's writing offers readers a rare combination of humility, charm, self-effacing humor and sincerity. His story is deeply moving and yet his writing style is absolutely lovely and light. You can't help but wish you knew him. In addition to being an adventure with the occasional dangerous hike or encounter with the wrong people and a story of the stunning difference one man can make, Little Princes is has a touch of romance as Grennan met a fellow volunteer and fell in love.

Geez, talk about a sap. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about this book! Little Princes is the best kind of memoir. I laughed; I cried. Highly recommended. Buying the book can even make you feel a little valiant because a portion of the proceeds will go to Conor Grennan's non-profit organization, Next Generation Nepal. (Nancy, of Bookfoolery and Babble)

Both Joy and Nancy (and several other bloggers whose reviews I’ve since come across) are spot on about this memoir. It’s one of the most honest and heartwarming books I’ve read in a long, long while. Although it’s been a couple of weeks since I finished, I can’t stop thinking about “Conor Brother” and Farid, Nishal, Krish, Anish, Hriteek, Rohan, Raju, Priya, Nuraj, Santosh, Dirgha, Navin, Amita and Leena.

Child trafficking is a very serious subject, and yet Grennan manages to imbue his memoir with hilarious anecdotes that had me laughing until I cried. I’m so glad I listened to the audio version of this book, so I could hear the author’s intonations and wonderful accents, as well as the pronunciation of the names of the children and locations. But listening to the audio once wasn't enough. This book touched me so deeply that I was compelled to buy a copy so I can have it to re-read sometime in the future. It was wonderful to be able to look at all the photographs, which, quite honestly, brought tears to my eyes. Conor’s narrative is so descriptive and heartfelt that I felt like I knew exactly who and what I was gazing at. The printed version also includes an update on the children of Little Princes, as well as a two-page map of Nepal.

I picked up my new copy of Little Princes (with its beautiful cover) and the book fell open to this passage:

“Jagrit, listen—I brought you back something better than an apple,” I told him.

He turned back toward me. “What did you bring me?” He was genuinely curious.

“Come inside. I’ll show you.”

There was no easy way to tell a boy who has grown up believing his entire family was dead that I had, just ten days earlier, met his father. There was no easy way to tell him that I had a photo of his father holding his own death certificate, that I had a letter from him for Jagrit. There was no easy way to tell him he had a mother and a brother and sister, that they were all still alive and had never forgotten about him. That they had spent the last nine years wondering where he was, if he was even still alive. So I just opened up a long series of photos. I showed him photos of the postman who first told me of their existence, photos of the long trek to Jaira. And then I showed him a photo of his father, the shepherd. The man in the picture was holding a photo of Jagrit that I had given him. From beginning to end, I told him the entire story of how his family had come back to life.

Jagrit had never cried in front of me before. At fourteen years old, I imagined he considered himself too old for it. But now he could not stop. He stared at his father’s face. Jagrit, choking with emotion, asked if his father had told me why he had given him up, why his mother had not fought to keep him. That began a long discussion of the children lost in Kathmandu, of how traffickers tricked parents into giving up their children. I told him the story as I knew it, and added everything that I had learned in Humla.

I pulled out my notebook, where I had taken detailed notes of my interaction not just with his father but with all the parents. The notebook was filled with the stories of shock, guilt, pain, and desperation. It was filled with mothers recounting the fear of living under rebel authority, of young teenagers with automatic weapons, of the moment they had learned their neighbor’s child had been abducted and forced into the rebel army. The decision taken nine years ago to send Jagrit away was made under circumstances that he would never fully comprehend. I hesitated a moment, then handed the notebook to Jagrit.

“Everything is in there. Anything you want to know.”

He took the notebook and opened it slowly, flipping through the pages but not reading them. Even for a boy as bright as Jagrit, it would take concentration to read in English. He didn’t seem to have the strength. He held it up.

“My father in here, sir? He asked. “You can show me the page?”

I took it back from him and turned the worn, smudged pages until I found the heading that read Jaira, Jagrit’s village. I read him a paragraph that I jotted down quickly during the interview, while Rinjin was asking the father the first questions about his son…

For an hour, Jagrit and I talked and went through the photos, starting with his father, then going through the whole trip so he could see more of his village and Humla. He never let go of the letter from his father.

“You can make me a copy of the photo from my father, sir?” For me to keep?” His voice was tight. He was choked up.

“Of course. I’ll bring it over tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” He looked down at the letter, not reading it, but just staring at it, as if it was some artifact that he didn’t quite believe he owned. Then he said, “Maybe I sit alone for a while, sir.”

For as long as I had known him, Jagrit had never wanted to be alone. But I would have wanted the exact same thing in that situation. I stood up.

“You’re not the only one, Brother” I told him before I left. “There are many children like you in Nepal. The only difference between you and them is that they still think they are alone in the world.”

I touched his head and walked out, gently closing the door behind me, leaving behind the sobs that grew fainter as I walked downstairs and out of the house.

And then I remembered this touching scene as Conor says goodbye to the children after spending three months at Little Princes:

“When you come back, Conor Brother?” asked Anish, a question that seemed to vacuum all other sound out of the room. They wanted to hear my reply.

I was expecting that. We had been strongly advised by the CERV staff to be vague and conservative in our answers to this inevitable question. Few volunteers ever returned to Nepal; it was too far away and required too much time. Volunteering in an orphanage was a one-off, an experience that you would never forget and never repeat. The staff at CERV had learned it was better not to give the children false hope that volunteers would return as it tended to deteriorate the trust given by the children to the next group of volunteers. The children were looked after by a constantly rotating set of parents, and they were becoming accustomed to it. The system was terribly flawed, but there were few alternatives.

“I’m not sure, Anish, but I’ll definitely try to get back!” I said, upbeat. This provoked no response from the boys.

“When, Brother?” Anish asked after an awkward silence.

“Well, definitely not for at least a year,” I told him. “Remember I told you guys that I’m going on that big trip? I showed you on the globe?”

“So after that, maybe, Brother?”

“Maybe!” I said. They had heard this before. Some of the boys looked away, others lay down in their beds. Anish alone remained sitting on the edge of his bed. He asked the question again in a different way, then again. He asked more specifically what I planned to do at the end of the year, and whether I needed to return home, and whether I liked Godawari. I finally cut him off. “I’m not really sure, Anish. But I’ll see you in the morning okay, boys?”

"Okay, Brother,” came the chorus. Anish lay down. I switched off the light.

In my room, I pulled my backpack out from under my bed, and took a pile of T-shirts off a shelf, laying them flat in my bag. And I broke down. The emotion caught me off guard. I hadn’t cried in years, and I was really sobbing. I was happy in Godawari. But there’s nothing here, I told myself through jerking breaths. You eat rice every day. You never go out. You never meet any women. You have not seen a movie or TV in months. You have to take care of eighteen children. You are constantly dirty and always cold.

I imagined my mom at the airport, saying good-bye to me each time I returned to Prague after spending Christmas in America. She would cry into my shoulder, sobbing like I was right now. I had always wondered where that sadness came from; leaving had never seemed like a big deal to me. And now here it was, that same desperate sadness, filling this very room.

If walking into the responsibility of caring for eighteen children was difficult, walking out on that responsibility was almost impossible. The children had become a constant presence, little spinning tops that splattered joy on everyone they bumped into. I would miss that, of course. But the deeper sadness, the deluge of emotion, came from admitting that I was walking out on them. The children, as always, will be fine, Sandra had said. She could have said the same thing to my mom at the airport. I knew she was right. But I could not leave this house unsure whether or not I would ever return. I just wasn’t going to do it. Despite myself, I had become a parent to these kids—not because I was qualified, but because I had shown up.

I went back into the big boys’ room. They were talking quietly in the dark.

“Conor Brother!” I recognized Anish’s hoarse whisper. Dark shapes popped up in bed and whispered my name.

“Boys—I’ll come back in one year, okay?” I whispered.

“Okay, Brother!”

“Good night, boys.”

“Good night, Conor Brother!”

I left Little Princes with a traditional Nepali leaving ceremony. Farid had come back from the hospital for a few hours to see me off with the other volunteers. The children, one by one, placed a red tikka on my forehead, gave me flowers, and bade me a safe journey. As each of the eighteen children approached, each asked if it was true that I was coming back next year. I confirmed it again and again. Some of the volunteers looked skeptical. Farid only smiled.

I meant it. I would be back for them.

There are dozen more passages that I’d like to quote, but they’re far too lengthy for one blog post, not to mention that I’m sure you’d like to read them for yourselves, in the context of the book.

Final Thoughts: This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. It will definitely hit my Top Ten for 2012 and is one I want to thrust into everyone’s hands and say, “Read this!!” Little Princes is a perfect choice for book clubs; it’s thought-provoking, inspirational and at times, hilarious. I wish I could meet those children (who are now almost eight years older!) and Conor Brother, who is truly a hero.

If you’d like more information about Next Generation Nepal (NGN), go here. Click here to view Conor’s website, which includes a reading guide and videos clips, as well as his personal blog.


18 comments:

  1. I'm adding this one to my wishlist on Audible. Now that I'm listening to more books, this one seems like the perfect choice. Love your new header, by the way!

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    1. I can't wait to hear what you think of this book, Kay. Isn't nice to have audio books to help pass the time on a long commute? Mine's only 15 minutes each way, but I sure do get a lot of listening in while running errands and before the store opens at 9:00.

      Thanks! I think my header has changed once again since your comment. I sure do have fun switching it out every weekend. :)

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  2. I really liked this book but not as much as everyone else has. I wanted to know more about the children and less about Conor, I think.

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    1. It was a little more slanted toward Conor and his love-interest than the children, wasn't it? I still enjoyed it and have been having fun reading his blog posts.

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  3. I'd written this off after Three Cups of Tea fiasco, but maybe I've been too hasty...

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    1. This is soooooo much better than Three Cups of Tea. If you get the chance, give the audio a try. You'll be hooked from the get go!

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  4. I'm adding this to my list, too. Thanks, Leslie, for a great review!

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    1. Thanks, Jenclair. It's very well-done. Informative, touching and humorous. It will be on my Top Ten for 2012.

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  5. Amazing post, and a book I absolutely MUST find. I'd never heard of it until I read this. WOW...

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    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Check out his blog, too. He's a wonderful writer.

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  6. I'm eager to find this. I was leary like JoAnn (above) but now, I really want to check it out. Your post moved me.

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    1. Aw, thanks. And thanks for stopping by...twice. ;)

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  7. I thought this was awesome, too! It was one of my favourite reads from last year...

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    1. Wasn't it good?!?! Have you been reading his blog? He's a very entertaining writer. And I can hear his voice in my head, which makes it even more fun to read.

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  8. SO happy you joined the club of loving Conor-Brother! :) My daughter just finished this last week and joined us, too. Thanks for the link-love!

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    1. And I'm so happy you and Nancy and Pam and several others led me to this incredible book!! LOVED the audio. Love his blog. I hope he writes another book...

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  9. I thought this book was AMAZING too and cried more than once while reading it!

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    1. It was amazing, wasn't it?! It's definitely one I'll read again.

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