October 12, 2005
So...I was going to give you a bit of an update on my own work,
but that can wait a minute because I'm bursting to tell you about
someone else's work. Actually, eight someone elses. Their names
are Avijit, Gour, Kochi, Manik, Puja, Shanti, Suchitra, and Tapasi.
They are children who live in Calcutta's red light district and
they're the subjects of a stunning documentary called Born into
This amazing film came about when a photographer named Zana Briski
went into the brothels to live among the prostitutes and document
their lives. It took her a while to gain the trust of the women,
but their children took to "Zana Auntie" immediately,
fascinated by her camera. Poor, marginalized, often brutalized,
these children face a life of dead ends. By the time they reach
their teenage years, most of the girls will be prostitutes, the
boys pimps and drug addicts.
When Zana began shooting, the children followed her as she worked
and some became so eager to take a picture that they snatched the
camera from her hands. Although she had not come to Calcutta to
teach, she decided to set aside her own work and show the children
how to take pictures. She gave them point and shoot cameras, taught
them how to compose a shot, and how to criticize their work. Realizing
that an amazing story was unfolding right before her eyes, she invited
her friend, film maker Ross Kauffman, to capture it. The result
shows what is possible when children discover the beauty and power
of their own voices.
I watched the DVD two days ago, and I still see the children's faces
and hear their voices. I think about them, and worry for them, and
applaud them. And I think about Mattie Gokey, from my book A
Northern Light, and how children – no matter when they
live, or what their circumstances are – hunger for self-expression
and validation. Born into Brothels is harsh and heartbreaking,
but it's also one of the most beautiful, inspiring, hopeful films
I've ever seen. Taught by Zana to value themselves and their expressions,
the children kept at their art. They kept taking pictures. Word
got out. Their pictures were published by national newspapers, and
exhibited in Calcutta and New York. The film won an Oscar and a
zillion other awards, but best of all – some of the children
were able to leave the brothels and find places at good schools.
One of my favorite sayings is this one by Ghandi: "You must
be the change you wish to see in the world." Zana Briski and
the children of the Calcutta brothels personify this. She is only
one woman, they are so-called throwaway children, and yet together
they sent a message of hope and defiance that has been heard around
Zana founded a non-profit organization called Kids with Cameras
to carry on the legacy of the Calcutta workshop. Through the organization,
she continues to help marginalized children. To learn more, go to www.kids-with-cameras.org.
You can meet the children on the site, view their work, and purchase
A note to younger readers: Although Born into Brothels is about children, it addresses adult
subject matter and is rated R. An R rating means anyone under 17
wishing to watch this film needs to be accompanied by a parent or
adult guardian. So, if you're under 17, please ask permission.
Now for the promised update on my own work. I'm emerging from a
bad bout of writing (which is better than a bout of bad writing)
and can report that work is proceeding on the sequel to The
Tea Rose. So many of you have written asking "Will there
be a sequel?" and then "When will there be sequel?"
and then "Are you sure there will be a sequel?"
that I feel I must give a progress report.
I now have a first part and a second part completed – hurray!
– and am working feverishly on the third and last part. My
due date is December, and it looks like I will actually make it.
I also have a title for the book – The Winter Rose.
The book begins in London in 1900. Fiona and Joe and Seamie are
all back, but center stage in this story goes to Sid Malone, Fiona's
blacksheep brother, and a brilliant young doctor with whom he falls
in love, India Selwyn Jones. As the book opens, Malone, a feared
London crime boss, is protecting his waterfront turf and India,
an idealistic social reformer, is being graduated from the London
School of Medicine for Women. Unbeknownst to either of them, they
will soon meet and that meeting – in the squalid rooms of
a Limehouse opium den – will change both of their lives forever.
Will the course of true love run smoothly? I wish I could tell you,
but I haven't finished the book yet! I can tell you that I've fallen
in love with India and Sid, and I hope that you will, too. I don't
have publication dates for The Winter Rose yet, but as
soon as I do, I will post them in the Calendar section of the website.
Hyperion is publishing the book in the US, HarperCollins in the
UK, and Piper in Germany.
I am very pleased and proud to announce that A Northern Light has been selected as the feature book for two New York State reading
programs in 2006 – North Country Reads and A
Tale for Three Counties.
North County Reads is a new community-based literature
program serving the residents of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence
counties – counties with lands in or near the Adirondacks,
where A Northern Light is set. Spearheaded by the Flower
Library and the Jefferson Community College, both in Watertown,
NY, the Watertown Daily Times, and North Country Public Radio, North
Country Reads aims to encourage residents in this tri-county
area to read and share their experience of one book, forging new
connections across the community.
A Tale for Three Counties, a reading initiative in western
New York that encompasses Genessee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties,
has also picked A Northern Light for its feature read.
A collaboration among twenty public libraries, school libraries, The Daily News in Batavia, and Genessee Community College, A Tale for Three Counties will take place on March 23,
24, and 25 of 2006. I'm honored to be following in the talented
footsteps of Leif Enger, Howard Frank Mosher, and Julia Spencer-Fleming,
all of whom have participated in this renowned program. Info on
both programs can be found in the Calendar section of this website.
One of my favorite lines from a book is this one: Love is or it
ain't. Thin love ain't love at all. Do you know it? It's from Toni
I feel the same way about books. Thin books ain't books at all.
It's not a size thing. Page count has nothing to do with it. Richness
and boldness and fearlessness and generosity do. Gilead by
Marilynne Robinson is just such an un-thin book. I read it in bed.
At breakfast and lunch. While cooking. And when I was supposed to
Forget the flap copy. There's no way one can explain this book in
a few stubby paragraphs. It'll tell you that the book's about the
Reverend John Ames writing a letter to his young son, trying to
give an account of himself and his forbears. It is that, but it's
also history, life, and a human soul written on the page. It's just
stunning. And captivating, unsettling, haunting, and affirming.
It's really, really, really good. It won the Pulitzer prize, so
there are bigger dogs than me who say so. I've read it once and
plan to read it again. Two total strangers who saw me with it told
me they'd read it and plan to read it again, too. I hope you like
Kuplink! Kuplank! Kuplunk!
Proust had his madeleines; I have Blueberries for Sal by
Robert McCloskey. Reading that book with my daughter brings me right
back to my own childhood, sitting on the floor in the Rye Public
Library, spellbound by the adventures of Little Sal and her mother.
I can see the other kids, the swirly carpet, and the librarian's
knobby knees. I can hear the rain pattering against the windows
and smell that sweet, comforting, slightly grubby smell of little
kids mixed with books.
Daisy and I picked some blueberries of our own this summer. Or rather,
I picked, Daisy ate. And when we were done, we both went running
down the hedgerows yelling Kuplink! Kuplank! Kuplunk! Other pickers
smiled. Obviously, they'd met Sal, too.
It's amazing the dialogues books open between readers. Daisy and
I talk about the characters we read about with great interest and
concern. We talk – some might say gossip – about Miss
Suzy and Captain. Remember them? They're from another classic, Miss
Suzy by Miriam Young and Howard Lobel.
"Miss Suzy has acorn cups," Daisy says. "The red
squirrels are bad."
"Yes, they are," I reply. "Do you think they'll get
married? Miss Suzy and Captain?"
"Miss Suzy likes to cook," Daisy says.
"Wish I did," I sigh.
For Daisy, Miss Suzy is nearly as real as I am. So are Sal and her
mom, Max and his wild things, Miss Twiggley, and Ping. What a joy
to know that my old friends are now her new ones.
Books live, and the good ones live forever.