Pantheon, $27.95, 356 pages
In an Indian village on the country’s central plain, hopelessness has reached a stage where men harvest their sparse crops then drink agricultural pesticide to escape the future. This haunting picture is a worst case example of rural villages in the developing world, many now home to only the elderly who care for the very young. The workforce has left to seek jobs in an urban cash economy and send their earnings home as they struggle to achieve full citizenship.
However crushing the slums in the eyes of their citizens, in Arrival City Doug Saunders interprets them as immigrant sanctuaries for optimism and opportunity. He juxtaposes the rural backwaters with the over-crowded settlements and contrasts those where the incomers are accepted as low cost labor, and others where they are reviled and efforts made to destroy their unimproved shanty towns. Individuals and families are profiled to humbling effect, their ambition and family loyalty described dispassionately. A remarkably powerful and memorable book, Arrival City sits uneasily alongside the ‘Buy American’ campaign, recognizing how destitution looms for the disadvantaged millions in the developing world.
Reviewed by Jane Manaster