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.”
I decided to start the “Good News Wednesday” series because of all the feedback from readers who share their own personal, heartwarming stories of hope with me. Even though the issues facing vulnerable children are difficult and many, there are also so many inspirational tales of positive change that make me feel that all of our work is really making a difference. I thank each and every one of you for your support, and for caring about these children and their stories.
Today I would like to share the story of Dawnene and her daughter. Dawnene initially came across The Weight of Silence while researching a trip to India. She wrote to me after reading it, to tell me that the book had inspired the two of them to sponsor their own child, a 12-year-old girl, through World Vision. Dawnene said:
Your book was so touching to me that I cried when reading many parts but was also left with a strong resolve that there was no way I could read this book and with this newly acquired knowledge and awareness not do something…anything regardless of how small it was, to try to make a difference. My initial excitement about planning my trip to India evolved into an entirely different prospective and mission. I now wanted to go and DO something about these children not just visit the Taj Mahal and be a tourist.
We don’t make a lot of money ourselves but in comparison to what these children’s lives are like, we are rich. After reading your book, my 21 year old daughter, Charlene, and I chose to sponsor a girl from India, named Nikitha. I hope to someday go to India myself and make a difference with volunteer work of some sort.”
I applaud Dawnene and Charlene for becoming aware of the situation, hearing the voices of these kids, and then taking action to do something about it. Do not, for one second, think that such an action is too small or ever underestimate the power of changing the future, and the world, of just one child. It is a ripple effect that can know no boundaries.
Dawnene then wrote a review of the book on Amazon.com that said, in part: “I, like many others, saw Slumdog Millionaire and was heartbroken by the stories of the children in the film and interested to learn more about this culture and its people. Shelley’s book did an excellent job of telling their stories. I had to actually put it down several times before I finished it for a couple of days so I could fully digest what I had read and get my mind around it.”
You can read Dawnene’s full review here. Thank YOU, Dawnene and Charlene – not just for your kind words of support, but for the love and care you have shown by being willing to step up and do something yourselves, instead of waiting for someone else to do it. I will end this post with the quote from the book that Dawnene said was her favorite:
If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
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 Gadling – read 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:
Today Dr. Jessie Voigts at Wandering Educators published a review of The Weight of Silence. It is an extremely thoughtful, insightful review and I thank her. Below is an excerpt of the review – click here to read it in full.
You might also like to check out the recent Austin American-Statesman newspaper review and feature of the book, by Books Editor Jeff Salamon.
Last month, we interviewed Shelley Seale, author of the book The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India. I have to be honest – this book is very difficult to put down. It is extremely well-written, and even though aspects of the story are difficult (children living in poverty, orphans, child labor, AIDS, etc.), Shelley writes so compellingly of the possibilities of change that I was filled with hope instead of despair. This is because of the way that Shelley presents her life-changing work in India, with the Miracle Foundation – as that of hope, joy, hard work, and best of all, the children that are the future of India.
The Weight of Silence is not only a story of a personal journey but the also journey of hundreds, thousands of street children – some of whom are lucky enough to be taken in by organizations and people that care. That these children have an opportunity for the future – and also to be kids again – is a miracle wrought by countless people who care and strive to change their world. In this book, we learn of precious children, and each one becomes important to us. We also learn of the dedicated people who care for these children, giving up wealth or a comfortable home to truly change the lives of so many. After you read the book, each photo will resonate with you – the smiling faces have meaning and context and joy.
In The Weight of Silence, Shelley shares disheartening statistics about child labor, child trafficking, AIDS and its impact on families (and India), lost kids, and more. Yet, interspersed within is a great story of hope, a slice of hard work and courage and the amazing resilience of children to adapt and find joy in the smallest of things. I laughed and cried when I read The Weight of Silence…and re-read it right after I finished. Somehow, these kids and their smiles work their way into your heart, and lead you to believing that despite the terrible circumstances of their lives, their extraordinary selves can shine through and make a path to a good life. It doesn’t always happen – there are too many kids, too many people willing to take advantage of them – for each story to end happily. Yet, there is enough hope in the kids and the people who believe in them that some WILL succeed – and will change the world. We care about these kids, deeply.
Thank you, Shelley, for writing such a powerful book that has touched the lives of so many, many people.