The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre
- Mass Market Paperback: 552 pages
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; later printing edition (May 7, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0446355569
- ISBN-13: 978-0446355568
I actually finished reading this book a week ago, but due to time constraints,haven't been able to jot down my thoughts properly. The City of Joy refers to a slum in Calcutta, an ironic place to be called "The City of Joy" because this is where lepers, the poor and the outcast reside. The story centers on three protagonists, Hasari Pal, Father Stephan Kovalski and multimillionaire, the young Dr. Max Loeb. Following a drought in his village, Hasari ventures out into the big city of Calcutta in search of better opportunities. With his wife and children in tow, he makes the journey there on foot, only to be shocked by the state of Calcutta. Beggars, prostitutues and poverty fill the streets of the city Anand Nagar, which means City of Joy. It is depressing, reading about child beggars, and little children going through rubbish dumps to look for scraps to eat.Reading about child prostitutes was probably one of the worst parts for me :
The adolescent girl's face was shuttered, hostile. There were traces of red on her lips and she smelled of perfume. Freeing herself from her mother's grasp and gesturing to her two small brothers, she handed over a ten rupee note.
"Tonight they will not cry"
On the other hand, Stephan Kovalski is a Polish missionary, who sought out the poor in order to minister to their souls, only to find himself touched and transformed by their way and philosophies in life. Deciding to settle in the slums with the very poor, Stephan brings a ray of hope to the destitute and abandoned, making life so much more bearable for the leper colonies especially.
Max Loeb comes into the story bright eyed and bushy tail, thinking that money itself is the panacea to all troubles only to be shocked at the state of life in Anand Nagar. Operating from a 'clinic' which is basically a small room in a rest house, Max comes face to face with living conditions unlike any he has ever been exposed to. There, he goes through life changing experiences that will forever change the way he lives the rest of his young, sheltered life. This is a scene of an amputation, which took place on a pavement, without anesthetics, due to lack of medical care. :
Neither Kovalski nor Sister Gabrielle had time to catch it before it fell onto the ground. Max put down the saw to wipe his forehead and the nape of his neck. It was then that he witnessed a scene that was to haunt him for the rest of his life : " a mangy dog carrying off in its mouth a human arm".
The beautiful part of this story is the way people are so giving despite being so terribly in need themselves. Reading this book does give you a fresher perspective of life, and if you're like me, you'll probably find yourself realigning your priorities in life. All in all, this was a riveting read, one that will stay with me for some time. I loved this Hindu saying which was in the book, I think it epitomized what the entire book was about :
If you have two pieces of bread,
Give one to the poor,
Sell the other,
And buy hyacinths,
To feed your soul.