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« Indians have no word for Yoga (prasad) | Main | The Feminine Hygiene Man »

June 24, 2012


Sujatha, thanks. This is just what I needed, another opinion. One of my book club buddies who loves books on South Asia, fiction and non-fiction, has been singing the praises of this book for some time. I will hold off on reading it just yet. I think Jan plans to include the book in our next year's reading list.

From my friend Jan, with permission.

"The book haunted me. It described a world that I cannot even begin to understand, yet I felt such anguish and compassion for its characters."


Anguish and compassion weren't what came to mind when I read the book. Initially, a faint outrage at 'how dare this outsider come in to criticize the lives of the poorest' crept in. But as the book progressed, I realized that this wasn't an outsider's perspective, Katherine Boo had quite literally, adopted the tone and wry description of life as it is, much like an Indian author would do while describing the dirty underbelly of his/her own city. That's when I stopped being judgmental about Boo's motives and just followed where she pointed. These people, in their own way, are merely trying to survive a harsh life with whatever resources and resourcefulness they can muster. There is no shame in that, nor pitifulness.

Thanks, added this book to my amazon list. It's been been a high-pitched sound at the edges of my consciousness for a while now...didn't know whether it was a serious work or poverty porn.

I too began this book with reservations similar to Sujatha, but found it to be very far from the 'poverty porn' one would imagine from Western 'slum reportage'. To begin with, Boo is just an excellent story teller. Her attention to detail and her wry humour makes the people in her book come alive as funny, interesting individuals, each with her/his unique history, personality, dreams and failures. Though she continually emphasizes the oppressive structures- the corrupt state and the ruthless market- through which these individuals negotiate their lives, the book is not a grand discourse on Indian poverty or global capitalism, but a story of a few peoples lives presented with painstaking detail. Also, I found my reservations about Boo melting because as a middle class Indian from Delhi the running theme of the book- the invisibility of urban poverty is discomfortingly relatable. The invisibility is ironic for Boo, as it was for me, realizing that Boo's book speaks of a world I can't imagine, even though it comprises a vast proportion of any metropolitan Indian city wherein I have lived all my life. Apart from some linguistic advantages, I don't think an upper/middle class Indian from Bombay would have been any more equipped to write this book than a white woman from the US, because the concept of one's 'own city' unfortunately does not imply any similarity of lived experience, especially in the context of urban India.

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