In case you’re not familiar with Ambrose Bierce, here’s a brief entry explaining who he is/was. The Devil’s Dictionary is likely his most famous work. If you like snark, you’ll enjoy browsing through it. Below is his definition of a politician.
Bierce, Ambrose |bi(ə)rs| (1842– c.1914), US writer, best known for his sardonic short stories that include “An Occurrence at Owk Creek Bridge” (1891) and his satirical treatment of the English language in The Devil’s Dictionary (1911); full name Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce. In 1913, he traveled to Mexico and mysteriously disappeared.
POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.
That odd combination of words is the title of an extraordinary book I just finished reading; the author’s name is Katherine Boo. She divides her time between the US and India and spent five years interviewing the inhabitants of a Mumbai slum situated on the edge of a sewage lake and very near the shiny new airport. Obviously, the contrast between the slumdwellers’ lives and the wealth also existent in India is implicit, often explicit.
Boo focuses on five people specifically, showing in vivid prose how they manage to survive—or don’t. It is a gut-wrenching account written in beautiful language, and well worth reading.
The book is categorized as narrative non-fiction; Boo includes very specific dialog, which gives the book the feeling of fiction. As I read it, I wished it had been fiction and not an incisive factual account of the impoverished lives of these determined and desperately poor people.
In case you are wondering, as I was, what the title refers to, near this slum is a wall advertising floor tiles; the words “Beautiful Forever,” written repeatedly, comprise the slogan for the tiles these people will never be able to own. Nothing about the lives of the Indians living here is beautiful—but everything is unforgettable.
Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)