Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
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; a 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.
Narrative nonfiction is where its at - holla! It really is. I am so in love with this book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, that I can't stop talking about it. I'm serious - my sister keeps calling me a 'pusher' because I keep pushing her to read this book NOW!! I hadn't even planned on reading the book so soon, but when Jennifer from The Relentless Reader mentioned that she had just received her copy from the library, we figured why not read it at the same time. Check out her review here.
As for my review, here goes:
Truthfully, I'm still digesting the book and all I can think about is Abdul, Kalu, Asha, One Leg, Meena, and Manju. Their stories are heartbreaking and honest - they are flawed individuals just trying to make their way in a society that refuses to let them rise to the middle, let alone the top. Forced to live in a settlement next to the Mumbai airport, they reside in rat-infested huts and amble down sewage-lined streets. They earn their money by scavenging nearby garbage dumps, the airport, and construction sites - metal, plastics, basically whatever they can find to sell. The atmosphere is grim and depressing - you can almost feel the pain these people are suffering through. The odd sliver of hope shines through, but it is squashed in the form of a false accusation, a corrupt justice system, an abusive family, a duplicitous ally, etc. Surviving in Annawadi is not an easy task.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a remarkable book that will break your heart. It will make you cry and rarely make you smile. This is a book filled with realities so ugly, you wish they were made up. You will want to scream in frustration, anger, and disgust at all the corruption, deceit, abuse, and neglect. And you will worry for individuals you will never meet, but whose plights are now dear to your heart. Katherine Boo's book is a tremendous piece of work that not only raises awareness to the struggles of the Annawadians, but also provides them with a place from which their voices can be heard, their stories told. This is a book that you will not forget.
So, yes, I would most definitely recommend this book to everyone to read - its an important piece of work that should be read by everyone. And, for more information about Behind the Beautiful Forevers check out Boo's website.
And now, I'm off to try and get more thoroughly engaged with The Age of Miracles, which is not as riveting as I had thought it would be. Hmm. Oh well. Happy Reading!!