Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Posted February 22, 2012 by Kara in Uncategorized / 5 Comments

Publisher: Random House
Release Date: February 7th, 2012
Pages: 368
Genre: Non-Fiction. Cultural
Source: LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai UndercityBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb:

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.

Review:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers was one of the toughest books I have ever had to read. If you are looking for an inspiring read, this is not it. It was depressing, vivid, very real, and made me lose faith in humanity in ways I cannot properly express. It was an amazing book, but one I would never EVER read again. It’s not a book that most people enjoy reading. But every now and then you need to read a book like this to put your own life and ego in perspective. It made me sick, I was disgusted, and had to reread a few passages to make sure what I was reading was true.

The resilience of the Annawadi people was astounding to me. I was shocked to be quite honest. Some of the things that happen in this book will leave you speechless, breathless, and in disbelief. I have never actually sat there and thought about the great lengths people will go to to stay alive in a completely hopeless situation. In some cases it’s almost inspiring. In others, such as setting your own child on fire because you cannot afford to keep them, not so much. Yes, that happened. I’d like to think I would be strong enough to survive a living situation as tough and as disgusting as this one. There are  impossible questions asked left and right in this book. Most have no right answers. Poverty, hunger, corruption, extreme violence, and that’s just the beginning of all that you will encounter here.

The corruption in India is just awful. It’s a dire situation. And I’m not going to pretend for a second like I’m an expert and know what I’m talking about because I don’t. I just know it’s bad. Horribly bad. And you want to hate the police, doctors, jailers, judges, lawyers, government officials, and everyone else involved in the corruption because they are hurting people and completely taking advantage of the lower castes, and in some cases, KILLING them. To me, neglect is murder. But how can I hate them when they get paid an unlivable wage and have higher ups to answer to that would cut them off at the knees if they didn’t participate in the corruption? Let’s not forget they have families and mouths to feed as well. I just don’t know the answer. But I’m sad. It’s awful.

As far as the writing, I was mesmerized by the way the individual stories in this book were woven together to give the reader a sense of what living in a Mumbai slum must be like. The author did a fantastic job of painting what was a typical day in Annawadi was like, and a very bleak one at that. She really managed to get inside the heads of her characters. I say characters because even though this is a nonfiction novel, it is written in a narrative style that makes you almost believe this is fiction. Years and years of research folks. Living in the slum day-to-day, following these people as they went about their daily lives with a video camera, and conducting many, MANY conversations with multiple translators to get it all down on paper. Impressive. It really is. And it’s totally worth reading. But it was also depressing as hell. And it’s not like I was surprised by this. I was prepared, and it still killed me inside.

What I got out of reading this? A little something I put together. It’s much easier to fight amongst each other (and take out your neighbor) for the leftover spoils of rich people (whether it be jobs or garbage) than it is to rise up, form a revolution, and fight corruption in the government. This is true in India, but it’s also true in other nations where there is such a division of social classes. And as always, there’s always someone in the world who has it much worse than you do. Be thankful. Don’t take anything for granted. NOTHING.

Favorite quote: “It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they avoided. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.”


Check out the book trailer below.

To order a copy of Behind the Beautiful Forevers from Amazon.com, click here: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity.

5 responses to “Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

  1. I’m a bit of a chicken sh*t when it comes to reading a book outside of my comfort zone. You are so brave and I agree that once in a while, we need a book that puts everything else in a different perspective.

    Great review, Kara!

    • Thank you for the lovely compliment. I love reaching outside of my comfort zone. It doesn’t always work out, but I am very happy when it does.

      You are brave too. For piling up your tbr shelf like you do. I couldn’t do that. I would die from the stress and feel like I am drowning. So you also deserve a ton of credit. Plus you are like the most generous book blogger out there. I’m serious.

  2. I like reading non-fiction now & then. I’m not afraid to read a book that will horrify & shock me. I do understand that there are real horrors in the world & we can’t always shy away from them.

    I’m ready!!

    • marybelle, I can pretty much guarantee that that is exactly what this book will do. I’m so glad you want to read it! I only put that little message in there because for me, as much as I enjoyed it, I was fairly depressed for a few days. I would have still read it anyway though. It’s a great book!

  3. Boo paints an extremely vivid and visceral portrait of one Indian slum called Annawadi, which is ironically overshadowed by the burgeoning Mumbai airport and various luxury hotels. Scenes from “Slumdog Millionaire” come to mind while reading about the denizens of Annawadi, which is located adjacent to a “sewage lake”. (Thanks to Boo’s olfactory descriptions of this sewage lake and what they do with its fish, I’m also re-thinking my fish oil supplements!) In Annawadi ambitions are so sadly minuscule; to become a waiter in one of the hotels, to have a hut with walls.

    Boo’s prose is quite unsentimental; it doesn’t have to be to evoke horror and disgust. But can I, as a middle-class American, REALLY imagine rats biting my children at night? It’s anathema to me and I find I recoil and then go a bit numb. What am I to DO with this knowledge? Aside from feeling grateful for that which I take for granted every single day; a hot shower, food, a roof, no rats.

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