Friday, November 8, 2013
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo
Random House, 2012
source: library copy
narrated by Sunil Malhotra
Random House Audio, 2012
8 hours and 15 minutes
source: purchased with Audible credit
Motivation: book club selection
One sentence summary (from goodreads):
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.
Life in the Mumbai slums, or "undercity", is marked by unspeakable poverty, corruption, filth, hopelessness, and often despair. Katherine Boo spent years documenting the lives of several families in the Annawadi slum and, as you would expect, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is heartbreaking, sobering, and just plain sad.
Raising awareness and increasing understanding are necessary first steps toward solving a problem, and Boo's book deftly accomplishes that. Reading about these "invisible" people provides an important alternate perspective, and I see why the book is appearing on reading lists for AP English classes and incoming first year college students.
Did I enjoy it? Really good narrative nonfiction is always a treat and Behind the Beautiful Forevers is certainly that, but enjoyment doesn't figure into this experience. It's an important, but ultimately depressing book.
Should you read it? Probably, but be prepared.
A couple of quotes:
"As India began to prosper, old ideas about accepting the life assigned by one's caste or one's divinities were yielding to a belief in earthly reinvention. Annawadians now spoke of better lives casually, as if fortune were a cousin arriving on Sunday, as if the future would look nothing like the past."
"Sunil thought that he, too, had a life. A bad life, certainly - the kind that could be ended as Kalu's had been and then forgotten, because it made no difference to the people who lived in the overcity. But something he'd come to realize on the roof, leaning out, thinking about what would happen if he leaned too far, was that a boy's life could still matter to himself."
A note on the audio production:
In an attempt to finish in time for book club, I downloaded the audio and listened on my walks. This was the first time I've encountered Sunil Malhotra and, while he did a perfectly adequate job narrating, it did not add anything to my overall experience. So, read or listen according to your own preferences.