I think I have read my Book of the Year. A random pick-up from the library the other day yielded a read so powerful, so moving, so poignant and yet so entertaining that I am humbly in awe.
Katherine Boo is an investigative journalist who spent years recording the lives of people existing at the edges of society in one of Mumbai’s largest slums, Annawadi. For Indians like me, who had grown up staring poverty in the face every single day without ever having to live through it, this book is a jolt from an uncomfortable part of our past. Written as thoroughly engaging narrative non-fiction, the book weaves through the lives of 3 main characters — waste trader Abdul, trash scavenger Sunil, first girl college graduate Manju — and their families, as they barely survive within a subculture of abject neglect and lack. More than once, I had to lay down the book to literally stare at where I am and how a 100th of it would look to the eyes of an Annawadian. A 60 sq. ft. living space shared by 11 people? Unimaginable. Bathing in a sewage lake because that’s the only water available? How? Passing a dying man on the street and leaving him there because of mortal danger to your own life by proxy? Unbearable truth.
A non-Indian reading this book may not be as affected by the truth in its pages because, honestly, the rot in the Indian system is so fantastical that it would be unimaginably alien to someone who hasn’t lived through it. One can expect to be shocked, dismayed, infuriated, exasperated at the seemingly mythical proportions of injustice that a majority of Indians have to endure on a daily basis, but no one can nonchalantly walk away from it. I read the whole book with a sickening pit in my belly, the pain of which wasn’t enough for me to be able to put this one down. Read at your own risk.
There were a few lines in the book that I’m reproducing here because I just can’t not. These tore me up.
“Some called him garbage, and left it at that.”
“…with gunny sacks of garbage on their backs, like a procession of broken-toothed, profit-minded Santas.”
“Scavengers slept on top of their garbage bags to prevent other scavengers from stealing them.”
Boo has won a Pulitzer for her work. I’m thinking she deserved it.
In case you’re wondering what’s happening to my cookie hobby, well, it’s going as well as it can with the kids hovering over any attempt at baking. When it becomes a family activity, cookie decorating becomes more a work in progress than a work of art. 🙂
This week R was invited to a friend’s house for his first-ever drop off playdate. It was a playdate of a few firsts: he was the intended guest not his brother’s addendum, he was to stay over for a short time without the mom buffer (so asking for the bathroom or snack manners would be all on him), he carried the sole responsibility for being invited over again or not. (Going by his friend’s goodbyes though I think he did extremely well.)
We made some cookies for him to bring to his outing as a gesture of his appreciation. The family is from The Netherlands so I decided to go with the Dutch colours on the icing — red, white and blue. (These, incidentally, are also the colours of the American flag and a few superheroes including Superman and Captain America.) I made chocolate letter cookies spelling his friend’s and her sister’s names. Simple, quick and a treat for the kids.
Since this baking wasn’t going for a special occasion I couldn’t help using leftover icing for some silliness. Result? A tie out of a blob cookie and a pepperoni pizza lookalike with a slice out of it.
Nothing fancy but loved nonetheless. Just like us. 🙂
More additions to the Reading Challenges this week. Quite unexpectedly so.
Tigers In Red Weather
What a thing it must be to be a debut novelist like Liza Klaussmann is and manage to write a novel like this. It’s hard enough sorting out your own thoughts; to be able to burrow into another person’s head and to be able to express their individual voice on paper is a craft only a few writers are able to master. To be able to do that successfully in your first attempt is pure genius.
Nick (we never know her full name, and I can hardly believe a girl would have such an androgynous name way back in the ’40s) and Helena are cousins growing up during WWII. Just after the war ends their lives take them away from each other’s innocent confidences into a confusing grown up world of pretentious marriages, duplicitous friendships, creepy children they can’t abandon. You are sucked into a time of world shortages and personal excesses. It’s an era unhindered by political correctness egged on by entirely too much alcohol.
The only problem I encountered was in trying to picture the character of Nick — a woman with it, a woman no one can refuse. Personally, I’ve never met a person like that in my life, but that didn’t take away anything from the intensity of this novel. I enjoyed this one immensely.
Union Street Bakery
This one isn’t exactly a culinary novel, but I figure with its name it can qualify as “food related” so I’m counting it for my challenge.
Daisy McCrae is a 30something woman who in losing her high-profile job in the financial sector has lost her identity. To tide over, she returns to manage her adoptive parents’ bakery and basically never stops whining about it until the very end. Her loving family isn’t good enough for her, nor is the fact that her ex-fiance comes back for her even after she ditched him a while ago. Peppered into the main story are mini stories about ghosts of slaves, family ancestry and an unrepentant birth mother, all of which contribute to the pace of the novel without contributing much else.
The novel is a light read, but the main character was so full of herself that the overall tone became too poor-me for my taste. Amazon gives it 4.5 stars, I’d pass it for 2.