A terrific book about the slums of India. The greatness of Doc Emrick. And the awful tragedy in Oklahoma

bookcover3dSad note to pass along today: Zach Sobiech, the 18-year-old I wrote about last Friday whose song “Clouds” became a YouTube hit and was recorded by celebs, died of cancer on Monday.

When a non-fiction book about a place that rarely gets written about is composed so beautifully it feels like a novel, it deserves to get major kudos.

And ever since Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” was published last year, it’s gotten all kinds of love from awards committees and readers alike.

Telling the story of three years in the life of a slum outside Mumbai, India, the novel is heartbreaking, amusing, thought-provoking, and maddening all at once.

Boo moved to Mumbai and lived in a slum called Annawadi on and off for three years, and she brings to life a cast of characters that I would love to hang out with.

In Annawadi, some inhabitants lack any shelter and sleep outside. Rats commonly bite sleeping children, and barely a handful of the 3,000 residents have the security of full-time employment. We meet Abdul, a 16-year-old school who scavenges and sells any garbage he can, to give his family a little bit more.

There’s Asha, a woman with a little status as a dealmaker and “slumlord,” and her daughter Manju, smart and compassionate but stuck like the rest of Annawadi in a cycle of false hope and dashed dreams.
Your heart breaks for little Sunil, another scavenger desperate to be loved, and for Mirchi, Abdul’s brother who would love to help the family but just can’t.
In writing about these remarkable, ordinary millions of desperately poor people, Boo shines a bright light on a corner of the world we don’t hear much about. The simplest things in the lives of these people (running water, having enough food) is so far away, and their lives so miserable, that you wonder how many of them have the strength to go on (and one character memorably takes her own life).

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is no breezy summer beach read. But it’s an absolutely wonderful book you won’t soon forget, if you’re interested in a glimpse of India that gets lost in all the CNN stories about “progress” there.

**You would think the poor people of Oklahoma have suffered enough, after the bombings in 1995 and the annual devastating storms that tear through their state with regularity.

But every year they seem to get slammed worse and worse with storms, and Monday saw the deadliest twister in a long time. It tore through an elementary school in Moore, Okla., killing seven children, and 51 people in all as I write this late Monday night.

Watch the video above to see the storm in horrifying action. Prayers and thoughts go out to all the victims.

Emrick.nbcsports-story-612

**Finally, Monday night saw a terrific hockey game between Detroit and Chicago, made all the better by the man calling the action in the broadcast booth, Mike “Doc” Emrick.

Hockey fans don’t get a lot of respect in the U.S., and we’re often made fun of for how little mainstream attention our sport gets. But one thing we can be proud of is that the best sportscaster in any sport chooses to do hockey. An Emrick broadcast is filled with humor, wit, intelligence, and outstanding play-by-play, with his voice rising and falling at the perfect times.

Emrick is a national treasure, so I was thrilled to see my favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, write a profile of him the other day.

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