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.”