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Laura Ahearn, Invitations to love: Literacy, love letters, and social change in Nepal. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Pp. xvi, 295. Pb $24.95.
“Sarita, I'm helpless….” Laura Ahearn begins her ethnography with a love letter, 21-year-old Bir Bahadur's first to Sarita, “whose long, black hair, fashionable Punjabi outfits, and demure giggles had caught his eye” (p. 3). Ahearn ponders the increasing use of such letters amid changes in literacy and marriage practices, understandings and expressions of emotions, and efforts of the Nepali state and other organizations to develop places like Junigau, the village in which most of the book's action takes place. By the book's conclusion, Ahearn has provided the means to understand the subtle paradox in Bir Bahadur's letter – that he asserts that he is “helpless” at the same time that he initiates an invitation. Ahearn demonstrates in exquisite detail that such expressions must be considered within the wider, shifting context of practices through which they emerge: that which instantiates the expression, literacy in all of its guises, and that which makes the expression meaningful, the emergence of a discourse of development that characterizes people, places, and activities.
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