Posts Tagged ‘Current Events’

Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know By Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax

January 27, 2014

I have friend who is died of cancer. He was 46 years old, married and  the father of a teenage boy. A few years ago he was getting violently ill. His doctors told him the cancer had spread throughout his body, his stomach, his lungs, his throat. When I found out my friend was sick,  a mutual friend of ours set up a time that the three of us could just hang out and chat. He told me the radiation therapy made him feel bad for days and then he would feel better for a few days. This triggered a memory in my mind of something I had read recently about the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Apparently the radiation from the accident has spread from Japan to California and it is a deadly force that all life forms must reckon with. I wondered: “How could the same process that is extending, albeit briefly, my friends life also be a ghoulish unstoppable menace?”

Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know has, in very simple terms, helped me understand this conundrum. Turns out we are radioactive beings living on a radioactive planet in a radioactive galaxy. The authors clearly give you the facts and debunk myths about this often misunderstood energetic process. Radiation is in the most mundane of everyday encounters. Tanning salons produce an enormous amount of radiation, an amount that actually rivals the sun, which is essentially a giant ball of radiation. Dr. Gale’s poetic metaphor for cigarette smoking is: “intentionally inhaling a small nuclear weapon into your lungs.” Now that I know more about radiation and understand, in a small way, how it helped my friend, the arbitrary cruelty of fate seems somehow less so.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

February 6, 2012

At one time, the travelers on the road to the Suhar International Airport in Mumbai could look out their car windows and see a tall, shiny, aluminum fence.  Ads for a company that sold floor tiles ran its length.  “Beautiful Forever” read the corporate slogan.

Behind that wall promising eternally beautiful floors lay what airport management didn’t want customers to see:  Annawadi, a slum first settled in 1991 by workers brought in from southern India to repair an airport runway.  Seventeen years later, when Katherine Boo did the research that led to this book, three thousand people still lived and worked there.

Boo introduces us to several Annawadi residents and gives us intimate glimpses into their lives.  There is Abdul, the young entrepreneur striving to improve the fortune of his family through recycling garbage.  We meet Asha, a rising star in the political life of the settlement.  We watch Abdul’s neighbor, Fatima, make a fateful choice that changes lives forever.

This is a gorgeously written book, but not an easy story to read.  Abdul, Asha and Fatima are people with few resources struggling to succeed in a corrupt system that does not seem very fair, especially to the poor.  Boo shows how precarious their lives are, and how quickly hardworking people can find their lives turned upside down by circumstance.

Boo, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and current staffer at The New Yorker, has spent two decades writing about poverty.  She hopes this book will “show American readers that the distance between themselves and, say, a teenaged boy in Mumbai who finds an entrepreneurial niche in other people’s garbage, is not nearly as great as they might think.”

She succeeded with this American reader.  I quickly grew to care about the people Boo portrays so vividly, especially Abdul.  The three years Boo spent in Annawadi researching this story were evident.  She made me see the dwellings and the faces of the people she met, and experience their daily struggles.

I would recommend this book to readers who like nonfiction that reads like fiction, people interested in India, readers with an interest in economic issues, nonfiction book clubs looking for a title with themes that easily lend themselves to discussion, and last, but not least, to devotees of beautiful writing.

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