book review: Boys Without Names

book review: Boys without names

author: Kashmira Sheth

date: Feb, 2010 Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins imprint)
main character: Gopal

Gopal’s family lives in rural India where they are tied to the land. One bad crop, one illness, just one accident will secure those ties and deepen their debt. The ties are so tight, that Gopal’s father decides to move the family to Mumbai where they can be helped by relatives and Baba (dad) can find work. The family faces several tenuous situations in their travel to find Gopal’s Uncle Jama and in most of these situations, we’re able to see the goodness of people in India. Given the terror that is about to strike Gopal, it’s important that the author remind us that there are people who choose to do good or to do bad in India as there are everywhere.

Gopal is a very smart young but in his cleverness, he gets snatched up and taken to be a child laborer, spending his days gluing beads to photo frames all day long. Gopal soon realizes that he’s had something most of the boys he’s working with have not: he’s known his family and he is confident in who he is. In his upbringing, many lessons were taught through strorytelling and this helps him develop many critical thinking skills that keep him mentally one step ahead in most situations.

Boys without names is a story with a very authenticl feel to it and it gives us insights into the very real work of child slavery. It is not a painful read, but suspense builds as Sheth skillfully uses Gopal’s voice to explore possibilities and plan for the future, something the boys had previously refused to do. Sheth conveys how adults can manipulate and control children and successfully describes the horrendous conditions the children live in. Nonetheless, the story remains hopeful as through Gopal’s eyes, we begin to see how things work, how relationships form and how things might change.

The author wrote this book after being approached by HarperCollins and she based many of the characters and situations on experiences she had while traveling in India. This book is quite a change from her previous book, Blue Jasmine but both books are full of the language, rhythms, values, foods and relationships of Indian culture.

themes: identity; India; child slavery; stories/storytelling

disclosure: ARC from the publisher

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