A journalist spends three years in Annawadi, a slum created haphazardly behind an airport in Mumbai, and she reports of the poverty there by relating the stories of several of its residents. The result is Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
I have to admit, this book was so beautifully written, and I was astonished that author Katherine Boo seemed to get inside the heads of her subjects. I questioned at times whether this was truly non-fiction. But her notes at the back of book did much to dispel my worries. She was obviously meticulous, even to the annoyance of the people she interviewed.
Not only did this book tell a good, albeit sad, story of life in the slums of a major Indian metropolis, it is an important book as well. Boo sought to provide those who would try to change the poverty situation, a full picture of what they would be dealing with. Because, as witnessed in the book, the problems lay much deeper than one would think. Katherine Boo herself says: And seeing what’s wrong– seeing it clearly–seems to me a crucial part of beginning to set it right.
The corruption of officials and backstabbing between neighbors make their painful lives almost unbearable. Well, actually, it does make it unbearable for some, as evidenced by the suicide rate. But Boo does make a point of showing that their lives are improving. But it’s happening slowly and more often it’s two steps forward and one step back.
Since the book came out, it received several major awards, including the National Book Award for 2012, and I discovered it’s been slated to become a London stage play this year. But I wanted to see if the book had inspired any philanthropy directed at Annawadi. Apart from the author’s donating her book earnings back to the community, I couldn’t find any. That was surprising and sad. I’m hopeful that things are changing for better, even if the press takes no notice.
A very impressive book and I look forward to Katherine Boo’s next literary endeavor.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012