“Sometimes miracles do happen”

51DizOJ5d2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Brown Baggers met on June 15 to discuss A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly, a memoir about a young Indian boy who gets stuck on a train and transported away from his family at the age of five. Eventually he gets connected to an orphanage and is adopted by an Australian couple after no one could locate his parents or where he came from. The book has recently been made into acclaimed movie Lion.

Readers were surprised to learn this memoir was ghostwritten. Some questioned the veracity of the memories of a young child. Readers said a traumatic experience like Brierly’s would have made a strong enough impression to be remembered for life, but others wondered if a young child could actually remember details like what he had to eat for each meal 25 years later and if maybe he had assistance from his Indian family once they reconnected. Readers mentioned factual discrepancies with listed ages, which corresponds with the author’s own admission of being unreliable on timelines due to his hunger, exhaustion, and trauma. Many readers agreed that the early childhood facts being embellished didn’t concern them because they felt the story was emotionally true.

“What is truth?” Readers agreed that truth can be elusive and is something that might be searched for.

Readers were surprised to learn about some of the conditions in poor, rural India where Brierly was born. He was tasked with watching his toddler sister as a four year old which seems a lot of responsibility. He was also able to fend for himself for a few weeks in Kolkata when he arrives despite being so young. Just the magnitude of people, especially hungry and homeless children, was hard to imagine but it explained why adults in the story were reticent to assist young Brierly when he was lost on the streets. Readers figured being poor might have led to increased responsibility at a younger age.

Some readers thought there were problems with the narration of the book. They weren’t sure if it was a discrepancy between Brierly’s story and the ghostwriter, or Brierly’s more recent memories and adult voice versus the created version of his five-year-old-self. It didn’t stop anyone from finishing, but it did make it a little difficult for some readers to get into. It was also noted that Brierly’s telling is very unemotional, perhaps because of his traumatic experience and trouble connecting with people later on in life.

Readers talked about this being the best possible outcome for Brierly (or any adoptee) who goes seeking their birth family – a warm welcome, and family still where they were decades before. The happy ending is what made the story great and while Brierly encourages the search for adoptees (it’s why he wrote the book) it easily could’ve ended up much more disappointing.

Readers said the adoptive parents seemed to be great and do everything they could to make Brierly’s life comfortable and preserve his culture, although the seeking out of a “brown skinned child” could certainly be interpreted in a questionable way. Readers wondered if the hints at racism Brierly experienced might have been a little more damaging than he implies.

Readers who had seen the film agreed that it was good but the book was better. download

Interviews with Saroo Brierley
From NPR
From BBC
Interview with Sue Brierley
From the WSJ

Brown Baggers will meet again on July 20 at noon to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

Photo Collections at JMRL

portraitsAs children the books we read include pictures and illustrations, but as we move on to more mature reading material the images begin to disappear until they exist only on the book’s cover. If you’re a fan of photography and yearn to once again flip through a book filled with pictures, check out one of these collections from the shelves of your local library to discover famous and fantastic photographic images from the comfort of a cozy chair:

Portraits by Steve McCurry – An intriguing collection of 255 un-posed and engaging color portraits of people from all backgrounds and corners of the globe by an award-winning photographer includes the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph and equally memorable images ranging from a bejeweled Indian bride to a Paraguayan cowboy.

Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel – Presents over eighty underwater portraits of canine pals, each with their own unique personalities depicted in the bubbles, paws in mid-paddle, and billowing ears that reveal themselves beneath the surface of the water.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton – A photographic census of New York City, inspired by the blog of the same name, showcases 400 photos and stories that capture the outsized personalities of New York and pay tribute to the human side of a great city.

National Geographic Stunning Photographs compiled by Annie Griffiths – A curated collection of the most striking nature photographs from National Geographic photographers, from animal migrations and landscape panoramas to natural disasters and animal portraiture.

Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday by Jordan Matter – Collects pictures of dancers striking poses in everyday places and while doing everyday things, including in libraries, on subway platforms, at restaurants, and on beaches. Continue reading

“We’s lost all the bases of civilized culture around here.”

tenorBooks on Tap read Methland  by Nick Reding at  Champion Brewery on June 1. While most of us  had watched Breaking Bad, we were not ready for the bleakness of meth addiction reported by Reding. He uses the town of Oelwein, Iowa as the lens while describing how and why meth became such an attractive drug to white working class people in the Midwest. Reding weaves together Big Agriculture, immigration policy, deregulation, and the need to work long hours at physically demanding factory jobs to explain why a stimulant would spread like wildfire. The reporting on the macro level was interesting, but the personal stories of Oelwein residents are what propel this book. The gruesome recountings of meth lab explosions, Tom Arnold’s sister’s rise as an international drug-dealer and the sincere work of the local doctor in mayor to revitalize the town are what draws in readers. Stories of deep addiction are stressful to read, but Reding spends a lot of time with those in Oelwien who are either in recovery or trying to diversify the economy. There is a certain entrepreneurial logic for those dealing meth. The nearest large city is 200 miles away, so cooking meth is one of the only ways to make a living wage without moving.

We discussed ways in which the US could combat the meth epidemic, from drug courts (in Virginia, treatment isn’t mandated) to living wage legislation to affordable health insurance that covers drug treatment to legalization similar to Portugal’s. Some of us found this book hard to read because for years the meth epidemic was hidden in the supposedly safe “fly over” states and that we on the coasts have a limited sense of life in Middle America.

More Information:
About the author
About the book
Author reading
Reaction to the book

Recent  New Yorker article on opioid addiction in West Virginia
Father/Son memoirs about meth addiction and recovery
Drug-related HIV spike in Indiana

Books on Tap Information:

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