Beautiful Thing: book review

Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro. Publisher: Black Cat (March 2012). Nonfiction. Paperback. 240 pages. 978-0-8021-7092-7.

Falling in love and legally marrying one’s beloved would absolve Leela and Priya of the loss of their virginity and of their sexual affairs. Marriage equaled redemption and would introduce them into respectable society. If she stayed single, Leela said, she would always remain in the eyes of the world a barwali.

Reporter Sonia Faleiro spent five years researching the Bombay dance bar scene, befriending a young woman named Leela and her close friend Priya. These women unquestionably have difficult lives. They’re survivors of neglect and abuse. They’ve managed in their own ways. In writing this review, I in no way want to disparage these women and their journeys. Reading Beautiful Thing didn’t make me feel enough.

Both Leela and Priya left home and ended up working in Bombay’s dance clubs. Priya’s parents sold her. Leela ran away from an abusive father. Both have steady boyfriends, allowing them some privileges. Leela dates the owner of the nightclub. He’s married with two children. Although it’s in a destitute part of Bombay, these young women live like most other nightclub workers. When not working they go to friends’ parties, take day trips or if lucky enough go away somewhere romantic with their boyfriends. There can be dangerous aspects to their work as you can imagine of any exotic dancer—possible rapes, assault, abuse, theft. Plus to make the money, they must have sex with men they wouldn’t necessarily choose as a sex partner. That’s the part that’s most vile. So Leela and Priya are independent and in control but then give up some of that power for money. It’s cyclical.

Bombay. Underground dance clubs. There seems to be so much promise in uncovering a seedy world of sex, money, class structures and danger. There’s a bit of that in Beautiful Thing however author Faleiro doesn’t make you feel you are in the club, in the Bombay slums, with these women and that’s what’s truly necessary to make the reader care about their plight. To care about the rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. It’s lacking tension, character development and sense of place.

Faleiro writes in a strange format and uses dialogue that doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s third person narrative and a journalistic viewpoint while other times it’s first person and she’s part of the activity. Faleiro uses a lot of Indian words with no explanation. And I’m not talking about a definition but a contextual sense of that word’s meaning. While it’s one thing to read about what is going on with women in another country, it’s another to get people to really emphasize with and care for the real women behind the black-and-white print.

Why is I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is such a good read? I read it and researched Yemen. I wanted to know more. That’s what makes a good nonfiction book. You learn something new, you develop and interest in something new or you want to DO something. Beautiful Thing unfortunately disappointed me.

purchase at Amazon: Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars

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