25¢ a Cup

Finding Paris in India

Non-Fiction - Travel
267 Pages
Reviewed on 02/01/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

Paris of the 1920s, complete with its bohemians and artists, may no longer exist – at least, not in Paris. But, perhaps this ideal image of Paris does exist in another part of the world like Calcutta, India. Author and multimedia artist Brian Thomas ventured to India in search of a cup of coffee for 25 cents. What he found was worth much more. We hear a lot these days about white privilege, but to really experience, to really define who you are and where your place is in this world, a deep look at the dire living conditions of the majority of Calcutta’s population will set you straight. Using photography – all black-and-white images that are both metaphoric and stoic in their representation - this author/artist explores a world very foreign to the rest of us. He explores it first pre-pandemic, with considerable historical references to the distant past, and then really experiences the inequity of life when the pandemic hits. Calcutta is shut down and those who do the menial jobs, living one day at a time, are set loose to live (and often die) on the streets, or to walk many miles to their hometown and the families they were supporting with their meager income, carrying with them the deadly virus.

Brian Thomas’s book, 25¢ a Cup: Finding Paris in India, is a collage of ideas, adventure, travel, art and so much more, portrayed in black-and-white images and eloquent words of wisdom in the fine art of storytelling and creative nonfiction. Part memoir, part travelogue, entirely reality at its most profound, the author leads the reader on a journey to a world so foreign to even the most seasoned traveler. While telling his story, the author provides insight into an impoverished land full of people who are the poorest of the poor. He makes friends amongst missionaries and Indian residents at all levels of prosperity (or lack thereof). And everywhere he looks, in each photograph he takes, there’s another story to share. This is a fascinating read, very thought-provoking and poignant. One of his comments from his closing summed up his intent: “I have not written a book about Calcutta, but about what privileged people from the West can learn about their world and themselves in India.” Brian Thomas went for a 25 cent cup of coffee but, more importantly, to work. As he worked, he felt humbled and discovered an entirely different world within himself and beyond. To put it simply, this book is engaging, insightful, informative and powerful. I love the black-and-white photographs - so much contrast and depth of perspective.