Books on poverty in IndiaIn India, a country of about 1.4 billion people, poverty remains an enduring and multifaceted challenge. The complexities associated with poverty and its intersectionality have been vividly documented and explored over the years through the lens of literature. By immersing the reader into the world of poverty and presenting its challenges firsthand, books on poverty provide a comprehensive understanding of its multifaceted nature while concurrently fostering awareness. 

Books possess the ability to confront the prejudices surrounding poverty by humanizing the experiences of the economically disadvantaged in a nation. They serve as catalyzing agents, inspiring action for poverty alleviation. Fundamentally, books facilitate the initiation of discussions on the theme and reality of poverty, engaging not only academics and policymakers but also the general public. 

Everybody Loves a Good Drought

Everybody Loves a Good Drought” serves as a wake-up call, urging readers to confront uncomfortable truths about the harsh realities marginalized communities face. The book title, dripping with bitter irony, reflects Palagummi Sainat’s visceral response to the deplorable conditions witnessed during his reporting tenure for the Times of India between 1993 and 1995. This is where the heart of the narrative lies, exposing the intricate web of poverty, exploitation and resilience in some of India’s most destitute villages. The book uncovers a hidden division of labor, shedding light on occupations and practices that remain obscured even to many within India.

People Without History: India’s Muslim Ghettos

In the fabric of India’s diverse landscape, narratives of resilience and adversity often remain untold. “People Without History: India’s Muslim Ghettos,” authored by Jeremy Seabrook and Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, is one such book that unveils the intricate lives of individuals residing in the impoverished suburbs of Kolkata. This book sheds light on the challenges faced by these communities, predominantly comprising Muslims and their remarkable endeavors to carve out a livelihood amid dire circumstances. What sets this account apart is its portrayal of uncelebrated triumphs and unacknowledged tragedies that coexist within these neglected districts.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, National Magazine Award recipient for Feature Writing and MacArthur Fellow Katherine Boo’s compelling work, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” transcends the boundaries of traditional nonfiction and immerses the readers into the gritty realities of poverty within the slums of Mumbai, India. This book attempts to capture the essence of life in Annawadi, a small enclave inhabited by around 3,000 people, situated amid the opulence of the Mumbai International Airport and luxury hotels.

The book unfolds over a meticulous three-year study, focusing on the lives of two families. Remarkably, Boo’s storytelling places women and children at the forefront, acknowledging their pivotal roles and amplifying their voices as the most faithful and reliable sources of information. Her deliberate choice to focus on children as narrators, devoid of the adult biases of religion, caste or politics, adds depth and authenticity to the narrative. Thus, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” compels readers to confront uncomfortable truths about societal disparities.


Literature serves as a powerful medium for illuminating the often unseen and ignored aspects of society and paints vivid portraits of individuals and communities living in poverty. These books do the same, allowing the reader to access an entire reality different from their own to understand the different identities existing within India and the world.

Manasvi Kadian
Photo: Flickr

Struggles of RefugeesFact or fiction, books are a great way to create empathy and understanding of the real-life experiences of other people. An experience that is not uncommon yet unique to each individual who has lived it, is the global refugee struggle. There are many books that tell the stories of refugees and contemporary fiction books are only one example of a genre that can raise awareness through storytelling. Raising awareness about the struggles of refugees through books and literature helps encourage more humanitarian efforts directed at helping refugees.

Kiss the Dust

Published in 1994, this historical fiction book by Elizabeth Laird takes place in 1991. Tara is a 12-year-old Kurdish girl living in Iraq during a time when conflict was high between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Kurds. After her father’s involvement with the Kurdish resistance movement, Tara and her family are forced to flee to Britain, where her whole world changes completely. Though “Kiss the Dust” is more about Tara and her family’s struggles as refugees living in London, there is also a lot of focus on the Kurdish resistance movement in 1991 and the trauma that many experienced because of it. There is also an emphasis on overall trauma from war-ridden areas, something that has lasting effects on refugees.

The Red Pencil

“The Red Pencil” was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and published in 2014. Inspired by a true story, it revolves around 12-year-old Amina living in Darfur, Sudan, in 2003. She nearly loses everything when her village is attacked, and after, she and her family are forced to find a refugee camp on foot. This book describes the struggles of her journey to the refugee camp in Kamal as well as her struggles while living in the camp. Due to the trauma, Amina stops speaking. Eventually, one of the relief workers gives her a red pencil which she uses to begin her journey of recovery. While describing Amina’s journey, the book also highlights Sudan and its prolonged conflicts and wars, showing how many Sudanese people have been forced to flee their homes throughout the years, making Amina and her family only one of many Sudanese refugees.

The Bone Sparrow

Written by Zana Fraillons and published in 2016, “The Bone Sparrow” follows a young boy named Subhi who was born in an immigration detention center in Australia. His mother and sister were part of the flood of Rohingya refugees who escaped their homeland due to the genocide of their people. Because he spent his entire life behind fences, Subhi struggles to curb his curiosity about the outside world. His only access is through his mother’s stories and his imagination. Eventually, he meets a girl on the other side of the fence who contributes to his journey of freedom, imagination and knowledge about the world. Through Subhi’s struggles, the author illustrates the refugee struggle of not having a place to truly call home. The story also shines a light on the Rohingya genocide and the number of refugees created as a result, a conflict still going on today.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles

Enaiatollah Akbari was 10 years old when his mother sent him to Pakistan from Afghanistan, to protect him from the Taliban, portraying the many years the Taliban have been creating conflict in areas around Pakistan and Afghanistan. Published in 2010, the novel by Fabio Gada revolves around Akbari’s five-year journey as he travels through Iran, Turkey and Greece, eventually ending up in Italy at the age of 15. Throughout his journey, he encounters many hardships. This story highlights a refugee’s journey of loss and rebuilding.

The Good Braider

Published in 2012 by Terry Farish, this book is about a Sudanese family escaping war in their homeland and eventually ending up in Portland, Maine, a place with a lot of other Sudanese immigrants. The community of Sudanese refugees in the United States portrayed in this book shows the impact of the current and previous conflicts in South Sudan. The main character, Viola, struggles to balance the differences between her Sudanese heritage and the culture of the United States. By portraying Viola’s struggles within a Sudanese immigrant community, this book highlights the communal struggles of refugees and immigrants living in the United States.

The Unique Struggles of Refugees

Though the characters are fictional, all of these stories are based on real-life events that forced thousands of people to flee their homes. From war to genocide, each book highlights a unique yet similar set of events that the characters experience, based on their history, setting and context. These different perspectives not only allow people to empathize with victims of history but also bring more of an understanding about the lives of refugees and encourage more humanitarian efforts to address this global issue.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

The world lost one of its greatest literary voices and most popular celebrities on April 17, 2014, with the death of Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In his 87 years of life, Marquez touched the hearts and lives of individual readers around the world, and is renowned for his poignant words and heartbreaking characters. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Marquez’s anthology of works is all-encompassing. He wrote novels, short stories, screenplays and poetry. The most famous of his texts are “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The genre of magical realism is what it is today because of his foundational and groundbreaking approach to it as a writing style.

Arguably his most groundbreaking narrative, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” speaks to the realities of many impoverished or rural communities across the developing world. In it, he creates the fictional village of Macondo, and follows its various trials and tribulations through the span of several generations, such as death, disease and abuse. Underlying these problems though, is his constant tone of hope and love, which are even more accurate realities of such communities.

Beyond his specific works, he is remarkable as a writer in general for the position from which he writes. Having grown up and spent the majority of his life living and working in developing nations of South America, he is what can be called a post-colonial writer. That is, his writing seeks to validate the voices and experiences of the inhabitants of regions of the world still reeling from colonialism.

Such countries tend to have large populations of socially repressed communities, historically silenced because of their low economic, racial or cultural status. Writers and activists, such as Marquez, are vital to opposing and subverting the disadvantageous system that continues to subjugate.

He is a constant testament to the power of love, friendship and the inherent beauty of life. He never ceases to affirm the life of the individuals he writes:

1. “Humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest.”

2. “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good.”

3. “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

4. “A true friend is the one who holds your hand and touches your heart.”

5. “There is always something left to love.”

6. “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

7. “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

8. “Nobody deserves your tears, but whoever deserves them will not make you cry.”

9. “Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.”

10. “I would not have traded the delights of my suffering for anything in the world.”

These quotes give us not only a glimpse into Marquez’s mind and soul, but also into the incredible beauty of life for all of us. He reminds us to never take anything or anyone in life for granted, and that we are always in control of our own happiness. These are messages valuable to all of us, regardless of our socioeconomic status.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Thought Catalogue, Philly Enternatinment, New York Times, BBC
Photo: srednja

Struck by the catastrophic circumstances of their previous lives in Syria, children in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan spoke of bullets, bombs and death. Nawwar Bulbul wanted to change that. A prominent soap opera actor until being blacklisted by the Syrian government on account of joining in protests against the regime, Bulbul brought his love for theater with him as he fled.

The Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan has ballooned with the recent inundation of Syrian refugees fleeing over the border and, with a lofty 102,704 residents, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, currently stands as the world’s second-largest refugee camp. Basic needs such as food and water are met on a marginalized basis by various international organizations attempting to help quell the trauma of the current Syrian crisis, yet children require more than that in order to live with the hope of successful and fulfilling futures. With less than 40 percent of refugee children attending school, there is a huge deficit of arts and culture among traumatized population.

For over two months, Bulbul has worked to bring happiness to the lives of these children. Because of the impressive initiative taken by this actor-turned-director, 100 refugee children come together to rehearse Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Translated to classical Arabic from its original Bard’s English, the play brings joy to its performers and a renewed sense of childhood innocence to those who have been stripped of such rights and privileges.

One young girl named Ammari, who came to Jordan along with five sisters and a brother, says she feels the transformation.

“I do not feel lonely any more in this place,” she told reporters. She has found something to finally entertain her and take her mind off of the victims of calamity around her.

Though some may claim that this particular Shakespeare tragedy is not suitable for children, Bulbul argues otherwise. He says he took only the roots of the story for the children’s adaptation, and focused primarily on the differences between lying and telling the truth. While Bulbul’s initiative received no support from international organizations and only minimal support from friends in the Syrian community, the past two months of play practice have shown outstanding success for the youth.

In discussions of Shakespeare’s plays, the participants showed behavioral and emotional development. The children involved learned quite a bit about controlling anger as well as the violent and destructive consequences of seeking revenge. For a group that has spent a good portion of life so far living amid death, destruction and humiliation, these are lessons some may have thought unfathomable in previous months.

Yet Shakespeare is not the only poetry in this situation. Bulbul translates from Arabic to mean bird, or oftentimes nightingale, a bird primarily known for singing in the dark. So as Nawwar Bulbul brings the song of hope and joy to the inner darkness of an overpopulated refugee camp, he does, so beautifully, live up to his name.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Ahram Online, Times of Israel, Global Arab Network
Photo: Times of Israel

The best way to lean about humanitarian work is to participate in it. But for those who are still getting their feet wet or are unsure where they fit in, the following books are must-reads to offer inspiration and possibly get your blood burning enough to climb on board whole-heartedly.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
By Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning husband-and-wife journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the book follows its authors’ belief that individual stories are more powerful for calling people to action than statistics. The book is set up in two parts, where the first half is a series of essays recounting Kristof and WuDunn’s research regarding the oppression of women in (mostly) the developing countries of the world, and the second is a call for action – complete with steps to be taken and records of what is already being done.

Humanitarian Alert: NGO Information and Its Impact on US Foreign Policy
By Abby Stoddard

Stoddard writes a convincing account of how NGOs, even those unfunded in the country of action, have the power to effect local state policy. Her book compares the negative and positive aspects of NGOs, sifting through to determine an estimation of usefulness. Humanitarian Alert promises “[a]n array of sources, from embassy telegrams to interviews with state and non-state actors, creat[ing] a compelling picture of how narratives and numbers in humanitarian crises help or hinder response.”

Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty
By Roger Thurow & Scott Kilman

Written by two former Wall Street Journal reporters, Enough asks how it can be that there are people starving when we possess the tools and technology to feed everyone. With research and personal accounts from all over the world this book will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about how people are fed in the world today.

An Imperfect Offering
By James Orbinski

The memoir of the man who has become one of the world’s foremost humanitarian doctors, the book recounts the suffering and dispassion left unchallenged in the world today and carries Orbinski’s belief in “the good we can be if we so choose.” The Observer writes, “A lesser man could have capitulated. Not so Orbinski, for whom, one feels, celebrity of any kind is far less interesting than the central question with which he struggles in this compelling book: ‘How are we to be in relation to the suffering of others?’”

In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid
By Caroline Abu-Sada

The misconceptions about aid held by those who benefit from it can be baffling. By divulging many of these false beliefs, Abu-Sada alerts humanitarian aid groups from all over the world to improve the way they promote themselves to those they are trying to help. The misconceptions of those in crisis and the developing world can greatly hinder the work for groups such as Doctors Without Borders and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), but In the Eyes of Others Abu-Sada explains how best to avoid common confusion and promote the true purpose of an organization in ways that will be positively received by foreign communities.

Whether any one of these listed books suggests your true calling, they each have a lot to teach us about how foreign policy and aid are received by, and influence, those they are meant to help.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: Farming First, Amazon, The Guardian
Photo: Innovation Story

No matter what your political leanings may be, these books cannot help but convince readers of the importance of global development. As you read the anecdotes and arguments presented in these books, remember that only 1 percent of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid – and change begins with you.

1. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

After traveling and mountain-climbing in the Himalayas, Mortenson launched a mission to bring schools and education to children living in remote regions of central Asia. His moving book outlines the importance of local development projects targeted at education, capacity building and sustainability. Through Mortenson’s activism and writing, the Taliban’s hold has been reduced over previously unprotected and disempowered communities.

2. Partner to the Poor by Dr. Paul Farmer

World-renowned doctor, anthropologist and humanitarian Paul Farmer defines the term “structural violence” and explains its connection to global health in this gripping book. Farmer writes about the structural elements of political and social life that systematically undermine access to healthcare in rural Haitian, Rwandan and Peruvian communities. His arguments on political instability’s effect on population compel readers to see the vast impact of foreign policy and aid.

3. The Practice of International Health by Ananya Roy and Daniel Perlman

This book offers a series of personal accounts from physicians and humanitarians providing healthcare around the world. More so than other anecdotes, these stories provide a detailed picture of the logistical and cultural challenges international development projects face. However, rather than discouraging such projects, “The Practice of International Health” demonstrates how such barriers can be overcome in order to achieve remarkable success.

4. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Journalists Kristoff and WuDunn cover a lot of ground in this entertaining and heartbreaking collection of stories. Similar to Mortenson’s work, “Half the Sky” emphasizes the importance of grassroots organizations, illuminating the tireless efforts of individuals in India, China, Afghanistan and Ethiopia on the behalf of women. In the book’s epilogue, Kristoff and WuDunn also provide an extensive list of nonprofits doing amazing work around the world, as well as easy steps for getting involved in female empowerment and global development.

5. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

Microfinance has both supporters and critics, but after reading this autobiography by the founder of the Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, readers might find that their opinion has changed. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work in providing small-value loans to women in rural areas in order to promote economic growth among families and villages.

Shelly Grimaldi

Sources: GoodReads, Banker to the Poor
Photo: Wishes 4 Life