“Behind the Beautiful Forevers”
First the title should be explained: the book follows many people and families who live in the Annawadi slum which stretches out behind a long wall that separates it from Sahar Airport Road, leading to busy Mumbai Airport. The wall is covered with advertising; one particularly noticeable ad, plastered many times side by side, is for ceramic tile for the home, which will be “beautiful forever.” To describe where they live, they might say “Behind the beautiful forevers” and everyone would know exactly where that was. Of course the author wanted to use these words for the irony. Slum dwellers build homes out of any material they can find and the result is haphazard and sometimes deadly.
Most of the characters, who are real people and whose real names are being used, make their living from collecting the trash generated by the airport. They disassemble and classify, then take it to a recycling place. As the population grows, fights break out over territory for trash. Ingenious and dangerous thievery develops.
After the full depth of the poverty, it is the ever-present corruption that strikes the reader. Even the charities (some very well known) were used in bribery schemes. The slum has “government” and ties to local police, who are so corrupt that it takes inside knowledge to know which ones to bribe successfully. They beat the unfortunate children as well as adults who come into their power.
The new concept for me was how endemic it was to blame another victim for one’s own misfortunes. Instead of sympathy for one another, they preyed upon one another. They must have felt hopeless to address any “authorities” en masse over their issues, so did not unify. Hopelessness was shown in the suicides that were reported. Other deaths were due to constant exposure to pollution and unsanitary conditions.
The book is an excellent source of real information about how many of our fellow humans are living. Until the last chapter, it reads like a novel that you wish were a lot happier, then the author’s voice explains how she wrote the book and why. So many, many people ought to read this book. I highly recommend it.
I give it 4 stars because I reserve 5 star ratings for books so great that I keep them and reread them.
Students: This book is .6 credits for World Lit (English 202) in my class.