Friday, June 17, 2011

A Book Worth Reading

I am anti-trend. If everyone else is reading a book, I tend to put it at the very bottom of my list. For example, I just finally read "The Help" about a month ago. (That's another story)

Our County sponsors a County-wide reading opportunity each year. This year's book is "The Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Children of Nepal" and for some reason, this year I decided to read it. Maybe because a young friend of mine is getting ready to go work on the issue of human trafficking in Asia. I don't know, but I picked it up. Fully expecting another heart wrenching book about how the US involvement overseas ruins people's lives, I was prepared to hate it. BUT . . . 

FINALLY, a book that lives up to its hype. This book is a beautiful testimony of how cluelessness and no sense of purpose can be transformed into a love that knows no bounds.

One might think from the title that this book is about children who have been taken out of the home country by nefarious means, and the author's quest to return them. The truth is worse.  In the midst of the Civil War in Nepal, when parents were desperate to keep their children from ending up in the Maoist army, child traffickers promised the parents a future for the child in exchange for a lot of money. Once the children were in the system, the traffickers sold them to other Nepalese for use as beggars, servants, or worse.

Conor Grennan went to Nepal with no more than a vague idea that he would volunteer in an orphanage for three months and then get on with backpacking around the region. When he got to the orphanage, Little Princes, he discovered that these children were probably not orphans; instead, they were unable to be reunited with their families due to distance and war. The children at Little Princes were the lucky ones who had been rescued from the child traffickers pipeline. They were living in comparative luxury, with clothes and the opportunity to go to school.

In those three short months at Little Princes, Grennan was changed forever. In addition to caring for the boys at Little Princes, he was involved in trying to rescue seven more children whom he visited with and helped feed. Unfortunately, when the authorities went to rescue the children, they had been spirited away by the traffickers. Grennan left Nepal feeling he had been responsible for their fate, and resolved to return to make it right.

Grennan went from being a self-indulgent Westerner with little thought about the plight of others to a man determined to find out if he could return the children to their families some day. When he returned to Nepal with this goal in mind, the story he tells is gripping enough to stay up late at night turning pages.

Conor Grennan's writing is superb. He is honest about his humanity and selfishness, just as he is honest about the cold, the fear, and the joy.  The way he writes about the interactions with the children conveys love and great respect for his little charges who had endured so much. A particularly interesting part of the book is the moral dilemma set up by his contacting parents of these children. This white foreigner was telling them that their children were safe, well, and getting to go to school but that it was wrong to have let them go with the child traffickers (who of course did not represent themselves that way). Although they missed their children, they were delighted that they were doing so well, and feared that Grennan would change that in some way. It must have seemed odd to them for him to say they should not have done something that had benefited their child so much.

READ this book, and then visit his website. If you have a little extra cash, throw some in his donation bucket. It's worth doing it to a) make a difference and b) reward good writing!

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