Jeanette "Astute Crabbist"'s Reviews > Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
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May 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: cultural-and-social-commentary, nonfiction, indian-subcontinent-and-surrounding
Read in February, 2012

I struggled a lot with how to review this because it's hard to separate the quality of the book from how it made me feel. So let me first say that Katherine Boo is an excellent writer and a dedicated observer. The book often reads like a novel, although it may not be the kind of novel you'd want to read.

Life in the Annawadi slum is brutal, and sometimes your neighbors are the ones most determined to make you suffer. The specific residents Boo chose to follow over a four-year period ended up embroiled in some ugly situations brought on by fellow sufferers who should have been helping rather than trying to hurt.

I had to work at not hating some of the people who live behind the wall advertising "BEAUTIFUL FOREVER" floor tiles. The competition for limited resources and the need for most human beings to feel superior to someone makes many of the slumdwellers behave abominably, thinking only of their own survival while lying, cheating, and ruining the lives of their neighbors.

I felt agitated the entire time I was reading this book. I can understand the author's purpose in showing us what life is like in a Mumbai slum, and how changes in the global economy affect those who subsist on the garbage left by the wealthy. I certainly feel compassion for these people, but aside from that, all I can feel is helpless. Perhaps the author does too good a job of illustrating how difficult it is to provide assistance. Corruption is so prevalent that foreign and domestic monies intended for educating and housing the poor never reach those in need.

I don't see a lot of hope for change here, although many of the Annawadi residents cling to hope while others around them are eating rat poison to escape the misery. This is the one thing I did find that was most praiseworthy about some of the people in the slum. Their hope for something better remains alive, and they keep trying one thing after another, no matter how many times they get beaten down and refused. They are brave and resourceful, even if they have to lie to themselves every day just to keep that hope from dying.
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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message 1: by Linty (new) - added it

Linty This one really interests me. I think I'll wait for PB but I am most curious as to what you think of it.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" I'm only about 60 or 70 pages in. Excellent writing, depressing subject matter.


Mikki I've only heard really great things about this book. Hope to get to it soon.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Mikki, It deserves the high praise for the author's reporting and writing skills, but be prepared to be appalled at the slum conditions and rivalry among the residents.


message 5: by Linty (new) - added it

Linty I have friends who live in India. While they are better off than the people in this book they are still exposed to such conditions. It's impossible to witness it when it's everywhere around you. I heard that the author does a really good job reporting on this depressing subject matter.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Even if you couldn't see it, you'd smell it. With my sensitive nose, that would be almost unbearable for me. These people live right next to a lake of sewage. I don't know how the author managed to spend so much time there without getting deathly ill.


message 7: by Linty (new) - added it

Linty Ya. My friend tells me(this isn't the same area as in the book) that you can't go anywhere there w/o smelling foul odors. Sewage, trash everywhere, and people packed in like sardines. They say that one of the first things that hit you when you step off the plane(if you're visit) is the smell.)

I have a sensitive nose too. I can't take strong odors. I'd probably be throwing up all the time if I ever visit my friend. I would like to someday, though.
Just pack nose plugs. lol.

I think the very worst thing for me would be to see so many homeless, starving animals everywhere.


Mikki Jeanette wrote: "Mikki, It deserves the high praise for the author's reporting and writing skills, but be prepared to be appalled at the slum conditions and rivalry among the residents."

Yes, I'm prepared for a difficult read in the way of having to stomach harsh reality. I've just ordered it, but am interested in hearing your say.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Linty wrote: "Ya. My friend tells me(this isn't the same area as in the book) that you can't go anywhere there w/o smelling foul odors. Sewage, trash everywhere, and people packed in like sardines. They say that..."
Why is your friend living there? Is is worth it?
I saw a lot of the starving animals in Mexico. Nothing but rib cage and fur, with open sores. Sad for sure.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Mikki wrote: "...am interested in hearing your say."
I'd better get a move on, then. ;-) I'm usually reading at least 5 or 6 books at one time, so sometimes I dawdle.


Mikki Quit yur dawdlin' an git on it!


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Yes ma'am! I'm almost halfway there.


message 13: by Linty (new) - added it

Linty She was born there and really has no desire to move anywhere else. It's her home. I'm sure it's different when you're born into that. And she would be considered middle class so she is doing well. It would be difficult for many of us to move to a third world country--being relatively spoiled here. Even most of the poor here are much better off than ppl in other places.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Ah, yes, being a native makes all the difference. A big difference I see from reading this book as regards the poor here vs. there is that there is so much more corruption there. The programs we have here to serve the poor actually provide some assistance. Over there the govt. subsidies never make it to the people who need it.


Petra X It's very easy being in a third world country - there are always enclaves of expats and so there always suppliers of the necessary (!) goods. You become much more spoiled in many ways than living back in the first world.

The island I live on is hardly third world, but it definitely was when I came and it's not the only undeveloped country I've lived in.


message 16: by Nandakishore (new) - added it

Nandakishore Varma Behind the glowing international image, there is a lot of misery in India. The economic surge has increased the gap between the haves and the have-nots. But Indians continue to endure, because their philosophy is timeless and their resignation to fate, total...


message 17: by Mikki (last edited Feb 20, 2012 11:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mikki Understandable how the book would bring up mixed feelings of irritation and helplessness. Once you've been exposed to all the information, you're then left not really knowing how to process it and what to do. I suppose just being aware is the first step. Thanks for the review; I plan to start the book this week.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" @Petra: I don't know any Americans who have done the expat thing in India, but I know quite a few who have experienced what you say in other countries. It's almost possible to live in their own little expat community and not see much of what goes on in the country they occupy.

@Nandakishore: I think that resignation to fate while at the same time striving for a better life is a paradox that is difficult for an American mind to grasp completely.

@Mikki: I'll be interested to know how you feel about the book. When I read about historical events that are upsetting, I can consider myself informed and just move on. But when it's an ongoing situation, I feel like I SHOULD be able to fix it. Well, maybe if I was Bill Gates!


Danielle I'm about halfway through and I keep thinking would I have stepped in on any of these situations or would I have stayed the ever faithful and professional observer/journalist?


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Danielle wrote: "I'm about halfway through and I keep thinking would I have stepped in on any of these situations or would I have stayed the ever faithful and professional observer/journalist?"

As a female, no way would I step in. And the author is a small person with some significant health issues of her own, so even if she was tempted, she'd refrain. I did read one review that suggested her presence may have in some way caused or influenced some of the events, which I thought was interesting. There's really no way to be just an observer.


Danielle I never thought of it that way either, that her presence may have had influence on some of the events, however, I don't think I could have stood by and just observed, lol, that's why I wouldn't be able to do what she does, I like to have a more active role, although you can argue that she is playing an importnat role by making others aware of what is going on in Indian life, especially for those living in the slums!


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" That's where the agitation came in for me while reading the book. I don't want to turn my head from the suffering of others, but there's not much I can actively do to change it. And yet it's wrong to pretend it doesn't exist just because we can't fix it.


message 23: by Lori (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lori Kincaid I'm jumping into your conversation 6 mos later. First, the "masala" of smells that is Mumbai hits you before the plane ever touches down. There are an estimated million people living in slums surrounding the international airport and the stench gets pulled into the cabin when you're still several hundred feet off the Ground. Second, there is no way that the presence of a white Western journalist didn't influence the outcome of certain events. It's just impossible in that setting and in the culture. Third, the gentleman who said Indians are resigned to their fate is spot on. I truly believe that thru religion and custom/culture, many people have become numb to the plight of others. They do this for their own survival and sanity.


message 24: by Brooks (new)

Brooks This problem is rampant, even in fiction. I'm not singling you out specifically, but people have problems when a story, fiction or non-fiction, decides to showcase the horrible nature of the world. I understand that some sheltered Americans might have soft stomachs, but do realize that not everyone is effected so harshly by the terrible events that occur around the world hourly. I, myself, have absolutely no qualms reading something that depicts horrible events.


Deah A good review; I think this really summed up my feelings on the book. I couldn't help but feel disgusted at the corruption but had to ask myself what I would do in a similar situation, if the government wasn't paying my salary (judges, police, doctors, etc).


Deah A good review; I think this really summed up my feelings on the book. I couldn't help but feel disgusted at the corruption but had to ask myself what I would do in a similar situation, if the government wasn't paying my salary (judges, police, doctors, etc).


Linchuan Alleviating poverty is very, very, very difficult. For some ideas about how to do so, I would highly recommend Doing Good Better by Will MacAskill.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...


message 28: by Xavierall (new)

Xavierall Day Hey I have a question which person from behind the beautiful forever a book have choose the right way to escape proverty? Do you know someone wanted me to ask this question I'm not on this book but if anyone know please Let me know


sendann I completely agree! I sit around still just being so angry at Fatima.


sendann I completely agree! I sit around still just being so angry at Fatima.


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