Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rambling: What makes a great book "great"?

I am reading The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.  It's like a Mexican soap opera, minus the theatrics.  I am hooked.  Anywho, Celia, the mother figure in this book... I love her.  There is a part in the book that she really demonstrates her courage and it reminded me of Zana Briski and of course, my mom.

I had just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  That day, I went to my local Queens Library to return it and came across the documentary Born into Brothels:  Calcutta's Red Light Kids.  This documentary is about an English photographer, Zana Briski,  that lives in Calcutta and offers free photography workshops for children from Calcutta's red light district.  She strives to offer these students an outlet for creativity and intellectual exploration, hoping to pull them away from the harsh claws of drugs and prostitution.  

When it comes to any form of child abuse, I am the type of person that can't take it.  Just the thought of it makes my eyes burn.  Despite this, I checked it out and watched it.  I expected it to be morbidly emotional, but it wasn't.  It was realistic, it was pure.  It showed the good and bad in these children's lives.  It was about the children and their lives and their dreams.  

Briski is the narrator and appears only during her interactions with the students.  In addition to teaching these children about photography, Briski struggles to find them boarding schools in to provide the best chance of a formal education.  Some students made it in, some don't.  Despite her efforts, some students are sucked into the darkness of the world anyways. Of the students that do get into schools, a few leave by their own choice.  

Throughout the movie, one child, Avijit Halder, unravels an amazing talent for photography.  His mom is a prostitute and his father is a drug addict.  All odds are against him.  His talent earns him the opportunity to go to Amsterdam for a World Press Photo exhibit.  Briski and he went through a whole other ordeal trying to set up his visa documentation and by some miracle, it is done a few days before his trip and he is able to go.  Later, as Briski is trying to get him into boarding school, it looked like he wasn't going to do it.  He didn't want to leave his family alone; dysfunctional or not, he loved them.  But, he goes to the school.  And the credits role.

After the movie was over, I did what any other Internet savvy person would do:  I Googled Briski.  Briski started the program back in 2002, two years before the documentary hit the big screens.  She is still working hard to provide her services.  

Then I wondered, what happened to Avijit?  Did he leave the school after the film was complete?  Is he still alive?  Well...
He is alive and well.  Avijit is here in NYC studying at NYU Tisch. This child was destined to live a life in ruins and someone lent him a hand, giving him the chance to see the world in a better light.  

Towards the end of The Fault in Our Stars, Green writes: "The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; real heroes are the people noticing things, paying attention."  Briski noticed that these children didn't have anything to look forward to.  Of course, she is a wonder woman.  Briski didn't force Avijit to do anything.  She helped him discover who he could be.  

Now back to The House of the Scorpion, the moment I mentioned at the beginning where Celia becomes a wonder woman in heat... I literally gasped on the subway (people looked at me crazy).  As some people say, "that's when s*** got crazy".  Also, it's when Green's quote best applies to Celia.  

I think that when you are able to translate a quote or something from a book into your every day life or experiences, that's what distinguishes a great book from a good book.  In this case, I've found two great books I can reference at any point of my day.  

Today, it's nineteen degrees outside.  I feel warm inside regardless, like I can conquer the world.  A great book will do that to you. 


"You have a choice in this world, I believe: about how to tell sad stories..." - John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
"After all, what is suffering but an awareness of suffering?" - Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion

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