This book kept popping up on my Amazon recommended list and I always blew it off: it looked like a sad story about poverty in an Indian slum and let’s be honest, that sounds depressing! But after being told time and time again by friends AND Amazon, I decided to read it.
Lately I have become fond of watching You Tube videos of the author while I am reading the book. (Yes, as I write this I see this is just another new adult ADHD behavior – all this starting and stopping I must constantly do). The reason I acknowledge this behavior is that while watching Katherine Boo tell HOW she wrote this story I began to like the book even more.
Katherine is an award winning journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (who knew that even existed?) and the MacArthur “genius” award. She began traveling with her husband to India after she married. The idea of this book came to her during these travels. She spent 3 years living in a slum near the Mumbai airport while writing this book.
There were many stories that could have come out of this time, but the main plot of the story she chose to tell surrounds the family of Abdul, a young man who makes his living as a trash picker. As his business improves he is able to help his family make improvements to the family hut. While making these improvements, there is trouble with the next door neighbor. This trouble seems to be a symptom of jealousy of this new prosperity but for whatever reason, this neighbor lady sets herself on fire to get the attention she believes she deserves and blames it on Abdul and his father.
And while setting yourself on fire is obviously quite an extreme measure, I didn’t find the book to be depressing at all. By learning more about the culture and way of life in the slum, I came to appreciate the daily challenges and joys that Abdul and his family face. Katherine writes in such a way that you come to appreciate that these are real people, in their real life. I was also glad to learn more about another area of the world that frankly, I knew almost nothing about.
In the end, this book met my criteria for a good book, it was entertaining AND I learned something new.
This is a must read for all serious book groups, although you probably have already read it! For reasons already described, I am late to the party as it won the National Book Award in 2012. But as they say, better late than never. So if you were like me and are putting if off because you think it might be depressing, it’s not…READ IT!