Sandra'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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Feb 08, 12

Read in January, 2012

No matter where we live, whether in a middle class neighborhood, a gated community with multi-million dollar homes, or a slum, it is human nature to aspire to have a better life. Katherine Boo focusses on the poorest of the poor who live in a garbage strewn, makeshift settlement called Annawadi, which has grown up next to the airport and the expensive hotels that surround it in Mumbai, India. She takes us into the lives of several families and their attempts to better themselves. It is not difficult to identify with Manju, a young woman working on a college degree while also teaching children in a makeshift school and doing the drudge work of cooking and cleaning for her family. Manju dreams of making a good marriage while her brother Abdul earns most of the family’s income by sorting through garbage and selling what can be salvaged. Abdul lives for the moment knowing that he can be successful by being invisible to those around him. Their mother, Zehunisia cares about her 10 children, depends on Abdul and pushes Manju to work hard. Their father cannot work because garbage work had ruined his lungs. The dangers threatening them daily include disease, rats, and the knowledge that no one outside of their immediate family cares about them. Neighbors’ jealousy, corrupt officials, doctors, and even those who run facilities funded by outside sources to help the poor but use those funds for themselves threaten them. Yet the family continue to believe they will eventually succeed until an unexpected tragedy puts them all at the mercy of a life with no life supports.
This is a great read for book clubs. We hear much of India as a country that has millions of citizens bettering themselves but we seldom hear about those who are left behind to live in unimaginable circumstances. “Behind the Beautiful Forever” will open eyes and hearts and, hopefully, cause readers to become part of those who help “make incremental and meaningful improvement” for those living in such circumstances. To do so, however, we must first become aware of their real plight. 

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