Sustenance Through Starvation
As our modern, “developed” societies sank into individualism, as our economies took up the tenets of the crudest of capitalisms, something odd and somewhat distressing occurred: the “others”, who not so long ago were flesh and bone human beings – the neighbour we warmly greeted on setting off to work every morning, the lady on the till at the convenience store across the road who systematically buttonholed us for a half-hour chat, the postman who smilingly took off his cap as he passed by on his bicycle – morphed into faceless ghosts. The circle of human beings that actually exist for us suddenly shrank to a close-knit bunch of friends, and a few members of family. Yet at the same time another “other,” abstract, aloof, estranged, surfaced: this other “other” has the features of a little African boy, in rags, stomach bloated by malnutrition, eyes brimming with tears: the unshakable symbol of the human misery next to which we build our shiny skyscrapers. And in the exact same way as banks, factories, or oil exportation companies sprouted up, innumerable charities, human rights organizations, multifarious foundations emerged, so as to exploit the white man’s need to help that poor little African boy –in the exact same way we exploit offshore oil.
This is the cynical picture of the world that Sustenance Through Starvation paints. Through the tale of Gwendolyn, the guileless daughter of the head of the world’s largest charitable organization, we are led to coming to terms with the grim reality of our 21st century world. Our young heroine, selfless and brave as well as being somewhat naïve, is decidedly driven by the will to help the real other, not by slipping on a suit, attending meetings and pushing figures and data around as her father seems to be doing, but by going right there, where hunger thrives and disease spreads. So she sets off, heart brimming with enthusiasm and lifted by hopes that very soon will be shattered before her very eyes. From the United States, designer dresses, and limousines, to Swazizibia, the dustbowl, the heat, and death itself, there is but a few hours flight, but there is also a gap, that, as Gwendolyn will discover, may well be unbridgeable.
This Bildungsroman, through the instructive words of a series of memorable characters who will be just as many role-models –or counter role-models – for our heroine, submits us one simple yet highly disturbing question: is it even possible, today, to help that little African boy? Do we really want to? Is he not a part of the system, at the same time as being the source of occasional pangs of conscience we cure by sending a little check to some charity from time to time? Our skyscrapers are built not next to, but on the plight and hardships of poverty: that is the harsh truth woven into this novel’s pages. In a style that takes on a strong didactic dimension but without lacking the emotional depth and richness that makes a good novel, Sustenance Through Starvation leads us behind the curtains of what “charity” can be in a world in which our sustenance is their starvation. Yet far from being an incentive to be passive, this novel spurs a strong feeling of indignation regarding our unjustly double-tiered world: Sustenance Through Starvation can be read in a plush armchair with a comforting hot chocolate in hand, but once the last page is turned, the chair will feel outrageously too plush, and the chocolate taste appallingly too sweet.
|Duxbury & Gloucester
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