‘ Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!
How oft would vice and virtue places change!
The new world would be nothing to the old,
If some Columbus of the moral seas
Would show mankind their souls’ antipodes.

-Lord Byron his satirical poem Don Juan, 1823


A book and a film for your consideration.

The book is non-fiction, tho I wished it were fiction.

The movie was fiction, based on a novel, and I kind of wished it were true.


The Book:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

I think this type of writing is called ‘narrative nonfiction.’ The author is a former reporter, is currently a staff writer for The New Yorker, and has won a Pulitzer Prize. This is her first book.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is about Annawadi, the settlement/slum just outside Mumbai‘s (Bombay) airport and its luxury hotels. It is the story of a handful of ‘residents’ of Annawadi and will give you a picture of India you do not know, even if you are well read and well traveled in India, as I thought I was.

Boo has marvelously used her three-four years of research, reporting from Annawadi and other Indian slums to give you a portrait of folks and what is occurring in this part of India today unlike the usual view of poverty and the underclass.

She focuses on three or four individuals and tells their stories. It reads like a novel, and you quickly become involved in various lives, hopes, dreams, struggles, and tragedies. It is a story about relationships, both tender and tragic.

It is also a story about the larger Indian society at a time of major change in the country and gives you insights into a hidden world, not only near the Mumbai airport but in the country at large.

Simply the best modern book on India I have read.

(Note: Katherine Boo will appear at DC’s Politics & Prose bookstore Tuesday, February 21 at 7 PM. I will update this posting after that event as I am fascinated at how she was able to get so far inside a world that is so different from her own.)

The Film:

The Hunter, from a novel by Julia Leigh

We saw this new, Australian film in our Sunday morning cinema club, which means it’s not in the theaters just yet. But when it comes out, try to find it.

The story is about Martin, some kind of mercenary, who has been sent to Tasmania to hunt for the elusive and possibly extinct Tasmanian tiger. It is not clear why he has been hired to undertake this mission, but apparently it has something to do with a biotech company wanting to know if this animal has sedating powers when it attacks and kills its prey.

The acting, Willem Dafoe as Martin, and many of the supporting actors and actresses, including two children, is terrific.

The scenery and cinematography, filmed in Tasmania, an Australian island 150 miles south of the mainland, is also superb.

And the story keeps you engaged throughout, including the final events.

I suspect I would never have seen this film had it not been shown in our cinema club, and my guess is that it will not be a major film. But if you are interested in good acting, a good story (not so far from the truth?), and wonderful photography of a land you probably do not know, look for The Hunter.