Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katharine Boo

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

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.
Finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
Winner of the 2013 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest
One of the New York Times Book Review's Top 10 Books of 2012

My thoughts:
This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening account told like fiction, but unfortunately based on fact, of the lives in a small slum community in India.  It reads so much like fiction that I found myself at time hoping that I was wrong about it being a non-fiction piece.  It helped so much to read the end where the author explained how she gathered the details she used to recreate these lives for the readers, from personal interviews with those involved and still living to use of documents from court appearances.

Even in a community where few have much, their is jealousy and hard feelings for those who have more, who work harder, who have better health and come from higher castes.  Religion and differences create resentments in an area where everyone is trying to survive on very little.  Abdul, a teenager, works in his families recycling business after taking over or his ill father.  His younger siblings have the chance to go to school, a wish he had for himself, while he works to sort the recyclable he buys from others and sells for a profit with the families car.  The one-legged wife next door is jealous of the family and feel they look down on her and the men she is with during the day while her husband is at work.  She sets herself on fire and miscalculates how badly she will be hurt.  She blames the family for this.  The case stays in the courts for months and the loss of this family business is hard on the small slum community.

It is hard to really process that this is a current living situation, not something out of the past, that there are still people and families struggling this hard to survive.  Portions of it made me want to cry and, as I said, seemed more like fiction than non-fiction. 

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400067558
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/7/2012
  • Pages: 288

Meet the Author

Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.

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