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City of Joy

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Stephan Kovalski (a Catholic priest), Max Loeb (an American doctor), and Hansari Pal (an Indian rickshaw driver), dominate the narrative. All three reside in the slum and represent the juxtaposing of Western religion and science with Indian misery. Their lives are interwoven with that of the slum, its filth, poverty, starvation, hopelessness, and outbursts of violence. Kovalski becomes particularly engaged in the problems of the slum’s lepers, the absolute bottom rank of Anand Nagar’s society.

Lapierre demonstrates how social Darwinism rules the life of Hansari Pal. Pal realizes that his struggle to provide for his family involves both luck and survival of the fittest. When another rickshaw driver dies and Pal seeks to take his place, he is caught in a web of union corruption. Pal, however, manages to fight through its entanglements. With incredible luck and tough infighting, he makes a “relative” fortune by retrieving used hospital dressings from the city dump. After this good fortune, however, Pal succumbs to the ravages of tuberculosis, but not before his son is married and his line assured.

Max Loeb enters Anand Nagar as a young doctor from a heritage of American upper-class opulence. Initially idealistic, Loeb soon grows to a realism and a genuine loving commitment to his pitiable patients.

Lapierre sees hope in Kovalski’s reconciliation of his religion and his growing vision of joy as perceived by his slum inhabitants, sees a future in the marriage of Pal’s son, and traces Loeb’s personal growth, but what a terrible irony it is that Lapierre should find joy emerging from such misery. Some unpersuaded readers will regard this joy as simply bogus, while others will see it as a testimony to the resilience of mankind; the answer may depend on the Western or Eastern cultural heritage of the reader.