Book Review Sunday: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Goodreads Blurb:
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

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.”

Thank you to my aunt for recommending this to me!  It’s been quite a while since my last non-fiction book so I thought I’d give it a shot!  She also recommended several other non-fiction books that I’ll be trying out in the coming months.

Down to business.  As I said above, this is a non-fiction book.  Which made reading it especially heart-breaking.  It’s in slums like the ones in India where the extremes of human nature come out to play.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Neighbors turning on each other over simple misunderstandings.  Softhearted police officers among the one’s whose hearts are made of a substance harder than stone.  Or maybe that’s just because they have it as bad as everyone else.  Because no matter what the media and government officials tell you, everyone can lie.

It was appalling to read about these sorts of things still taking place in our 21st century world.  I don’t think I’ll forget this book anytime soon.  I did some research and (as well as reading all the acknowledgements and such) and learned that this is truly a non-fiction book.  Nothing was fabricated.  Everything that Ms. Boo wrote came from either first hand experience or interviews with these people.

I loved the way Ms. Boo approached this topic.  She did it with complete honesty and candor without laying blame on anyone and simply reporting what happened.

It was a bit unorganized and I was confused in several places.  It also dragged in the first 2 chapters which I had difficulty getting through.  I promise though, it’s worth it!

The Final Verdict:
A well written non-fiction novel that was written with complete candor.  It was a bit unorganized and the first few chapters were difficult to get through but once I did, I loved it!
4.5 stars

“…much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.” 

“What you don’t want is always going to be with you
What you want is never going to be with you
Where you don’t want to go, you have to go
And the moment you think you’re going to live more, you’re going to die” 

“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 dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.” 

“He wanted to be better than what he was made of. In Mumbai’s dirty water, he wanted to be ice…He wanted to be recognized as better than the dirty water in which he lived. He wanted a verdict of ice.” 

“Being terrorized by living people seemed to have diminished his fear of the dead”

“I tell Allah I love Him immensely, immensely. But I tell Him I cannot be better, because of how the world is.” 

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