There was a saying on a Mary Engelbreit poster from a few years back that went “Books Fall Open, You Fall In.” That’s the story of my life. I choose a book by its title, its cover, its author or whatever. Pretty soon I’ve met the characters, dropped into the setting and I’m lost to the immediate world. Sometimes, as in the case of Boys Without Names, I’m swept into a world that is as foreign as the surface of the moon. Not as forbidding as the moon perhaps but, maybe as lonely and unknown.
Boys Without Names is set in modern day India in the city of Mumbai, girlhood home of the author, Kashmira Sheth. The main character, 11-year-old Gopal, has recently found himself in the midst of a family crisis precipitated by the loss of the family farm, being weighted down by enormous debt that, because of unscrupulous money lending practices, could never be paid which finally leads to Gopal, his parents and younger twin siblings sneaking out of their village under the cover of night to seek refuge with an uncle living and working in the megalopolis of Mumbai. Just to heap misery on top of misery, Baba, Gopal’s father, has gone missing while trying to find the uncle’s home, leaving his family adrift and at the mercy of strangers both good and not-so-good. Falling in with the not-so-good, ultimately, Gopal, himself is drugged, kidnapped and sold into forced labor. All of this happens in the first hundred pages of the book. Yet somehow, despite the unfamiliarity of the setting, the strangeness of the culture, their customs and way of life, I fell in—head over heels.
This story could have been “ripped from the headlines.” It’s like something that you’d see on public television like Frontline or POV but it’s even more gripping. The thing that differentiates Boys Without Names from a TV report is the absolute humanity of the characters. Gopal’s family and friends are strong and weak, frightened and brave, courageous and timid, impetuous and cautious, they cover the entire ranger of characteristics that make us all the same despite our differences. This book has heart and guts. Like the sunshine that spills out between the monsoons, hope, especially for Gopal, is the prevalent emotion amidst the heavy gloom that pervades everyday existence.
Ms. Sheth has taken an aspect of our world, child enslavement, one that we’d rather not think about and turned it around from a tale of cruelty and horror to a shining, compelling novel of family and faithfulness. She’s a first-rate storyteller who has given us Gopal, a storyteller himself and a dreamer who, while he sometimes stumbles, he digs deep and fights to make his stories and dreams come true.
I hope you fall into this book the way I did.
Posted by: Eileen