I really disliked the author's first novel (The Orchid House), but her writing has improved a lot. The dialogue still isn't great, but it's not bad enI really disliked the author's first novel (The Orchid House), but her writing has improved a lot. The dialogue still isn't great, but it's not bad enough to distract from the author's strength, her storytelling. I loved Anahita's story and all the vivid characters in her life. The modern part of the story was less interesting and some things in the end were a little weird and sudden, but I still enjoyed the book as a whole. ...more
NOTE: I received an ARC version of this book through a Good Reads giveaway.
Midway through, I asked myself how I would rate the book. At the time, I waNOTE: I received an ARC version of this book through a Good Reads giveaway.
Midway through, I asked myself how I would rate the book. At the time, I wasn't sure. A 3? A 5? I was so conditioned to expect books to behave a certain way -- for one thing, to have a main character -- that I was having an "I don't love it" reaction to this one. By the end, I decided it deserved a 5 star rating for good writing, really placing me in the middle of a completely different world, and themes that will resonate in my mind long after I finished reading.
I try not to read too much about a book before I actually read it, so I somehow missed the fact that what Katherine Boo writes about is all real. Hollywood and mainstream fiction had me waiting for the Slumdog Millionaire story, but it didn't appear. Because that's not how people's lives are. Ultimately, this genuine depiction of real people's stories and motivations affected me far more than a feel-good or feel-sorry dramatized plot would have. Things don't get wrapped up neatly in the end, but that's because the characters are still living their lives. Katherine Boo has an author's note that closes out the book and summarizes themes that she encountered while researching the book's material.
There are many things in the book that are shocking. The indifference to death in the slums. The selfish, heartless ways neighbors treated each other. The rampant corruption -- items and money that funnel in through well-meaning charities? Probably not going to the people who need them the most. Through the rose-colored goggles of an American, my instinctive reaction (that lasted through a good portion of the book) was to judge the people who acted "badly," blaming them for the dysfunction of the system and the suffering of others. By the end of the book, I no longer thought the same way. Katherine Boo sums it up at the end:
"In places where government priorities and market imperatives create a world so capricious that to help a neighbor is to risk your ability to feed your family, and sometimes even your own liberty, the idea of the mutually supportive poor community is demolished. The poor blame one another for the choices of governments and markets, and we who are not poor are ready to blame the poor just as harshly.
It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in undercities governed by corruption, where exhausted people vie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good. The astonishment is that some people are good, and that many people try to be..."
That is what this book is about. I highly recommend it....more