Some stories are just too big to tackle in the newspaper – and global poverty is one of them. The past few years have seen an incredible amount of literature from authors who are experienced in the deeply embedded issue of poverty and are now putting their storytelling skills towards the fight against it. These three recently published texts provide a knowledgeable glimpse into the problems of the world today, and are perfect for a reader with a humanitarian mind.
1. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
A love story is not the traditional plot line for a novel delving into issues of corruption, violence, poverty and racism. Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz, however, expertly intertwines these in his account of failed and messy romance, set against the backdrop of an immigrant neighborhood in New Jersey. The novel follows the narrator, Yunior, across various stages of his adult life, as he struggles to navigate the difficulties of human relationships, further complicated by his racial, economic, and gender identity.
Through Yunior, Diaz challenges what it means to be a young Latino man from the Dominican Republic now living in the United States. This means breaking down a range of stereotyped assumptions, as well as internalized insecurities. Additionally, Diaz sheds light on the depth of poverty in both of the narrator’s home countries, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. Global poverty is a powerfully destructive force, which alters the characters’ lives in unexpected ways. Still, though, it cannot destroy Yunior’s strong emotional attachment to his Dominican heritage.
2. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
Images of Haiti, the western hemispheres poorest nation, have flooded the media in recent years, showing a nation struggling with natural disaster, political turmoil, and horrible living conditions. In her new novel, Danticat presents an alternate and more insightful image of family, love and community.
Danticat’s characters are certainly not immune to the structural problems of poverty and corruption. The novel focuses on the heart-wrenching decision of one fisherman to give up his daughter, Claire, so as to provide her with a better life. However, it also portrays individuals eager to fight back against the outside injustices that have augmented their situation, through political activism. Overall, Danticat presents a beautiful story illuminating the humanity and agency of the Haitian community.
3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Poverty is often hidden in plain sight, as this non-fiction Pulitzer Prize nominee seeks to describe. Boo, a former journalist, gives a touching and tragic account of her time in Mumbai, where the poorest of the community live in direct contact with the most affluent, although their neighborhoods remain socially isolated.
The story is one of upward mobility, highlighting the unique hardships of a family from the Mumbai slums of Annawadi hindering their success. Boo describes individuals who have aspirations shared by many universally, such as finding a better job, wanting security for their loved ones and renovating the kitchen. However, the starkly divided social dynamic accompanying poverty in India is distinctively interpreted.
– Stefanie Doucette