Category Archives: reviews

The Austinist Book Review

The classic “All Things Austin” website, The Austinist, has just reviewed the new 2011 Revised and Expanded edition of The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India. Thanks, Austinist! The review is below, or you can read it at The Austinist here. To purchase your copy of the new edition of The Weight of Silence, please click here. It’s available through CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others, and there is a Kindle edition as well!

Not to get all inside baseball on you, but this review of Shelley Seale’s memoir/reportage from her time in India was delayed by an almost tragicomic set of circumstances seemingly destined to keep this book from getting reviewed at all. Throughout it all, Seale was polite but persistent, and after we (finally) had the book in our hands and read it, her dedication to the work came into a wider perspective.

Most books have something of import to communicate to the reader, but this true life account of Seale’s trips to India in the middle and end of the last decade exposed her to not just tremendous poverty, but to its most helpless and legion victims, children, many of whom are also having their years of innocence wiped away by plagues of disease, forced labor and nothing short of sexual slavery.

It’s not an easy subject to broach or to read about, and the introduction itself to The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India is a testament to this difficulty. “There is a holocaust quietly happening among India’s children. The perpetrator is poverty, and its foot soldiers are disease, gender and caste discrimination, unclean water, illiteracy and malnutrition.”

Not exactly beach reading, but Seale has a patient and balanced viewpoint that eases some of the pain inherent in her topics. Furthermore, she’s less interested in a litany of complaints or solutions and is more dedicated to her reporting. As she explains: “Foreigners rarely fully understand the society they think to ‘improve,’ and the potential for imposing their own cultural bias can result in negative consequences for those whose lives they seek to change.”

Seale’s own effort at understanding actually begins through local media, when, in 2004, she was flipping through Tribeza and was inspired by the story former advertising exec turned philanthropist Caroline Boudreaux, founder of The Miracle Foundation. One year later, Seale and Bodreaux were bound for an orphanage in Cuttack, where we first meet Papa, a caregiver for orphans, and children like the shy Santosh and artistic Sahiful. This is actually the book’s second printing, and in the epilogue we’re given a glimpse of the continued stories of some of the individuals Seale met in her previous visits.

Critiquing a book that essentially hopes to raise awareness of child poverty feels about as useful as complaining about the Jerry Lewis Telethon – what are you supposed to say, that you had hoped it would be funnier? – but that’s our job and we should probably do it. While the book aspires to cut its beyond-sobering statistics with warm stories of Seale interacting with and bonding with children, the juxtaposition is frequent and at times jarring – some critical distance with the individuals she meets and less of a grocery list of factoids and overwhelming social ills would have made the reading more fluid.

That said, it must be noted that the tone of the book is overwhelmingly positive, and, as Boudreaux explains late in the book, the time has never been better to help the helpless. “The time for philanthropy is now…Together let’s put our feet down and stop allowing children to starve.”

Buy the Book!

Travels through ‘Slumdog’ territory

When The Weight of Silence was first released, in 2009, Jeff Salamon was a book reviewer for the Austin American-Statesman. He ran an article on my book, and Red Room picked it up. Here is what he had to say:

A number of memorable people populate Shelley Seale’s “The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India”: The volunteers who selflessly run the orphanages that house millions of children, the teachers and housemothers who work there, the Westerners, like Seale herself, who have chosen to give money and time to people who live halfway across the world. But mostly one is struck by the children themselves, some of them true orphans, some of them “economic orphans,” abandoned by parents who could no longer support them. Sibani, Rashikanta, Sumitra — these are children who would seem to have little to live for, but who often face their trials with indomitable personalities.

Though much of what Seale writes about is painful to read, much of it is filled with hope. Yes, most of India’s orphans live in grueling circumstances. But Seale emphasizes that “The Weight of Silence” isn’t a depressing book. Though the needs are great, the children Seale meets are bright and resilient, and would clearly thrive with a modest amount of support.

Read the rest of the story and review at the Austin American-Statesman!

Return to India, and new Book Review!

Shelley with the kids in India, March 2009

Tomorrow morning I board a plane headed for South Asia (first stop: Thailand), and I couldn’t be more excited. My boyfriend, Keith, and I are going to spend more than two months in Asia, including of course India, as well as Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. We will arrive in Calcutta, India on October 21, and from there take the train down to Orissa to spend four days with my darling, beautiful children of the Sishu Sadan orphanage outside Cuttack. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen them, and my soul is already rushing out for Daina, Pinky, Salu, Babina, Rashikanta, Rohit and the other kids who stole my heart over five years ago, and started the entire journey of this book.

Sooch Village, The Miracle Foundation

After that, we will meet up with the Miracle Foundation volunteer group at Sooch Village, to spend a few days with the kids who are living in that wonderful children’s village full of individual cottage homes, a school, and a great lunch-and-learn program for the children in the surrounding village. I will stay on with Caroline Boudreaux for several days after that, at Sooch and at Rourkela, where many familiar faces will greet me such as Amir and Sumitra.

I will certainly be posting from India, and updating you on the children as well as sharing photographs taken during the visit. So please come back to see how they are doing and how much they’ve grown!

Before I go, I also wanted to let you know about some recent exciting happenings with The Weight of Silence. On September 23 I was featured as a return guest on Conversations Live radio show. I appeared on the show last summer, after the book’s release, and host Cyrus Webb invited me to return to discuss the issues of invisible children, and what’s been going on with the book over the last year. It was a great interview, and you can listen here if you’d like! (15 minutes).

A great new review of The Weight of Silence was also published on Luxury Reading. In part the review reads:

Author, Shelley Seale, takes us on an emotional journey, showing us the lives of children living in poverty, toiling as child laborers, and those struck with diseases such as AIDS. In the modern world, children are subconsciously taught to take for granted many basic things. Children in the slums of India truly see some of these basic things as privileges and luxuries. This book is likely to evoke feelings of heartbreak and tears of sadness, but is ultimately one of hope.”

Thank you!

So bon voyage, and the next time you hear from me will be from India.

Namaste,

Shelley

Donate $5 to Miracle Foundation with a Click!

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Today writer Mara Gorman features a book review of The Weight of Silence on her site, The Mother of all Trips, geared toward traveling with children. Mara writes the review for her “Mondays are for Dreaming” segment – and she has pledged to donate $5 to the Miracle Foundation for every comment posted on the article (up to $250)!!

So please – go to The Mother of All Trips today and read the review, and post a comment – and help empower these children with a simple click of the mouse! Mara writes, “The strength of the book is that even as she reveals her own internal struggles with despair, the overwhelming message is one of hope. By offering many concrete examples of how individuals can make a difference, Seale inspires her readers to look the problem square in the eyes and bring whatever resources they have to bear, just as she herself has done.”

“Therefore, as a tribute to the faith and optimism shown within the pages of The Weight of Silence, I’d like to make my own small contribution to the cause. For every comment that is made on this post I will donate 5 dollars to the Miracle Foundation, up to a total sum of $250. It’s a drop in the bucket, I know, but one thing this book has shown me is that small gestures do make a difference. As Seale says, quoting Mother Teresa, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.’”

In other recent coverage, The Weight of Silence has been reviewed on AOL’s Gadlingread it here. Except for being called a yuppie (ugh!), it’s a nice review. Writer Sean McLachlan says, “Besides her personal story, two things really set this book apart from the ‘see the horrible things happening in the Third World’ genre. Firstly, it takes a mostly positive spin. While Seale doesn’t flinch from the uglier side of Indian life, she focuses on the children’s resilience and dreams. They don’t come off as poor victims waiting for rich peoples’ help. Her main point is that these kids aren’t in need of handouts, but the basic human right of a childhood.

The second strong point is that the book is well grounded in fact, skillfully interwoven with the narrative so that it never slows down the writing. The Weight of Silence is part travelogue, part expose, and gripping reading. The fact that this book shows deep respect for India’s people while not ignoring their faults sets this book apart.”

I was also quoted on the Conscious Discussions blog, from my guest appearance on the Conscious Discussions radio show on July 14. On the blog, Lillian Brummet has posted comments I made about what people can do to make a difference for “invisible” children around the world, from small steps to big. You can also listen to the original radio show on the player below:

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