Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is an amazing story about families who live and work in a Mumbai
slum. It's one of my favorite nonfiction books I've read in recent years, and I wish the author would write a follow-up so I can learn what the families are up to now.
Katherine Boo spent years reporting in the airport settlement of
Annawadi, and the book unfolds like a novel. It's a fascinating look at
how the underclass tries to survive and get ahead in a 21st-century
economy. One of the things I found most interesting was how the
families were constantly fighting with others in the slum, literally
over scraps. And the police, the courts, the hospitals -- everyone,
really -- were so corrupted that they're all trying to fleece somebody.
In the author's note at the end, Boo points out how there was little
sense of a shared community, because they were all so desperate to get
ahead of their neighbors. In one disturbing scene, a man in the slum had
been hit by a car and was left on the side of the road. Dozens of
people walked by, but no one stopped to help because they were too
wrapped up in their own affairs and couldn't afford to waste time
helping him. After several hours, the man had died, and only then did
people stop to help pick up the corpse.
Despite the abject
poverty, I found the book to be inspiring because so many of the
families were hopeful that they could someday rise up out of the slum
and join the more prosperous middle class of India. As Boo noted, there
were three ways out of the slum: an entrepreneurial niche (like
scavenging for scrap metals), politics (meaning corruption), or
education. I'm pinning my hopes on Manju, a young woman who will be the
first person in the slum to have graduated from college. Rise, Manju,