I really place a lot of emphasis on the first few lines of a book. I just love it when the author seizes the moment and transports me immediately into the book. In just a few well-chosen sentences I’m in another place, I have a feel for at least one person in the story, and I’m already becoming emotionally invested.
Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about. Each of these is the first sentence(s) of the book:
- When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake – not a very big one. (Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove)
- Other pilgrims offered silver at the shrine; Maria brought an armful of wildflowers. (Cecelia Holland, Great Maria)
- Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way. (Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit: An American Legend)
- He will come who treads the dawn, Tramples the sun beneath his feet, And judges the souls of men. He will stride across the rooftops, And he will fire the engines of God. –Uranic Book of Prayer (Quraqua)(Translated by Margaret Tufu) (Jack McDevitt, The Engines of God)
I absolutely love each of these books; when I read them I was captured within the first few pages. Within minutes I was in Texas, the Middle Ages, California, or on another planet investigating a lost civilization. That first impression carried me into the book and I was gone.
Quite frankly, I do struggle a little with non-fiction writing. I always start the book meaning to stick with it in a quest for self-improvement, but somewhere after a few chapters I drift off and never finish. I keep trying, though, to find those books that will really capture me and teach me about things I never knew or even imagined. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is one of these books.
Here is the first sentence of the book:
Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father.
All right then! I am yours forever, or as long as it takes to read this book.
That is exactly what happened. This book, which is an immersion into the lives of the inhabitants of the slum world of Annawadi, located on open land belonging to the Airports Authority of India, is amazing. The narrative focuses on Abdul and his family, but we meet their neighbors, friends, and family as we travel through the events leading up to the horrific night described in the first sentence of the book and onwards through the incarcerations and trials of Abdul and other members of his family. Along the way we discover the realities of grinding poverty, the continual graft and corruption running through the Annawadi world, the brutal truths of modern life in India, and the glimmers of hope for a better life and future. I am horrified, I am grateful for my life, and I feel compelled to do something to make some difference. I want desperately to get e-mail updates about how Abdul and other people that I met in this book are doing. It should be clear to you that not only was I captured at the first sentence by this book, but I was compelled to read it straight through over a couple of days.
That first sentence was a good predictor. This is a very, very good book.