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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Thursday, December 29


I remember vividly how Pusan, South Korea, smelled when I disembarked there in 1953. It was the stench of poverty and exotic foods and too many people displaced by a senseless war. I could smell it again when we went to see the India of 1987 in Lion. It was the same as it was in Slumdog Millionaire, a country filled to the brim and overflowing with people. Children playing and bathing in a mud-brown Ganges River, children and adults scrounging each day to get enough food to keep them alive. And the smells.

It’s the story of a boy accidentally transported by train over a thousand miles from his home and family to a place where he knew no one and didn’t even understand the language. Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) are out stealing coal from a train to trade for two packets of milk to take home to his mother. The young Saroo is the living embodiment of the expression “cute as a button.” He wants to prove to his brother that he is strong enough to help him in his daily scrounging. But then they are separated when Guddu leaves Saroo sleeping on a bench in a train station. Saroo awakens and goes looking for his brother, boarding an empty passenger train about to leave on a destination far to the west. For two days he travels on the train, and when he finally escapes, he has to live on the streets with the many other street children. He is finally picked up by the police and put in an orphanage right out of Dickens, but he is eventually adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), a couple from Australia. The adult Saroo (Dev Patel) has forgotten his life before he was adopted. But he begins to have brief flashbacks to that childhood and is soon obsessed with trying to find his lost family. He uses Google Earth to try to find his birthplace, giving up his job, his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), and even his closeness to his adoptive mother.

It’s a story of love and familial connection. In many ways, it’s a beautiful film, rich with scenes of Australian countryside and overhead Google views of the India Saroo is searching. But it also makes a statement about overpopulation. The 2013 census tells us that there were 1.25 billion people in India, about one sixth of the population of the world. Sue Brierley explains to her grown son Saroo why she adopted him and his adopted brother, another of the lost children of India. She and her husband had decided that there were already too many people in the world, thus, their decision to adopt and save two children who otherwise would have simply disappeared into the sea of India’s people. The credits at the end of the movie tell us that every year there are 80,000 children in India who are “lost,” just like Saroo and the other children we see living on the streets of Calcutta. That’s a frightening statistic.

Despite the critical acclaim this film has gotten, with the probable Academy Awards nominations for Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, for director Garth Davis, for the film as one of the best of the year, I don’t think any will go on to win. It’s a beautiful film making a beautiful statement about the need for love and family, but it’s not quite beautiful enough.
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