Saturday, December 09, 2006

City of Joy; Dominique LaPierre

The copy I have was published in 1985 by Warner Books. Dominique Lapierre is a well known French author who wrote this book based on experiences he and his wife had in the late 1970's and early 1980's in India. Half of all royalties from the sale of this book support various charities LaPierre patronizes in India. Details here. The movie version of City of Joy seems to be an adaptation that may have caused some controversy at the time it was released (1992), but I didn't research any background information.

Alternately heartwarming and horrifying City of Joy is the tale of a Polish priest who becomes a solitary missionary in the slums of Calcutta. The book alternates Father Stephan's accounts of his adaptation to daily life among the poorest of the poor and the story of a peasant family scrapping for a meagre existance alongside thousands of others.

Here, the dreams are of sufficient food to feed everyone at least once a day- twice a day makes you rich. In Fr. Stephan's world, 'moving on up' means off the sidewalk into a shanty. No matter how vermin infested or rickety, a shack wards off the worst of the monsoon or provides shade during the oven-like summer heat. Hope means you don't become chronically ill until you can provide a living for your children.

Yet, ultimately, this is an uplifting book. For me, the Beatitudes are more vivid, more profound than they were a few days ago. Above all, City of Joy inspires thankfulness and hope. Hope that people reach out their hands to one another with offers of food, job skills, adequate shelter, medicine.

One issue immediately brought to my mind was the efficacy of international handouts (food, medicine, etc) for the destitute. No one argues that the wealthy have an obligation to the destitute. However, one can quibble over the method and the results. In this case, Africa immediately came to my mind, but the discussion could be made over many situations around the world.

I have no answers. That the destitute shall be among humanity forever seems to be a given. That each of us is obliged to help as much as we can in our corner of the world is also understood.

“God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try”
Mother Theresa

No comments: