Organized Panel Session
A new Bhutanese literature is emerging in English with Buddhist women at the fore as both writers and protagonists. In folk tales, short stories, children's books, and novels published in the last two decades, two Bhutanese women writers in particular interweave Buddhist themes with the challenges specific to women in a modernizing nation. This paper engages in a comparison of the novels, Circle of Karma (2005) by Kunzang Choden and Kyetse (2017) by Chador Wangmo. There are a number of parallel features in these works that make for a salient comparison. Both works center on female protagonists who begin their lives with keenly-felt religious aspirations and, following a series of misfortunes that propel them from their homelands, eventually become nuns. Both are unflinching in confronting gender issues, including sexual abuse and human trafficking, through the lived experiences of an array of female characters. In addition, both use karma as a narrative framework. How is female agency portrayed distinctly in these works given the shared language of "destiny" and "fate" that permeate them? What does this suggest about the challenges that Bhutanese women face in navigating the crossroads of traditional and modern contexts and interpretive frameworks? In addressing these questions, this paper draws on interviews with the authors to discuss the inspiration and evolution of their writing, the challenges of publishing Bhutanese works of literature, the narrative arc and themes of each novel, and specific resources for women writers in the broader South Asian context.