Stuart'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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Jan 02, 13

Read in December, 2012

In many ways, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an impressive achievement. Boo goes into a slum in Mumbai and somehow manages to find detail after detail about the inner lives of its inhabitants. She then assembles those details into a novelistic treatment of how an interconnected group of citizens lives and takes each precarious day at a time. As Boo points out more than once, these people are not of the lowest of India's economic classes. They have roofs over their heads, they have sources of revenue, and their children can and do attend school. But their lives are awful, the petty squabbles between them can result in total collapse, and while most possess hope, it's a wonder just how and why these people don't just give up. The human spirit certainly ignores logic and reality time and time again, and for good reason.

For me, the novelistic approach used here is a bit off key. I understand the rationale behind it - to give this story as large an audience as possible - but the flip side is that this approach gives the effort a voyeuristic feel that reduces its emotional impact. It's not that Boo doesn't treat the lives she details with sensitivity. She does and she certainly can't be accused of sensationalism. It's that there is something inherently strange in using a narrative technique that assumes the author can literally get inside the head of a 15-year-old kid in a slum. It's a leap that I can't make.

That criticism aside, there is much to admire here. The doggedness and courage of the author. Her compassion. Her assured, simple and effective use of language. She shines a light on a culture that almost all choose to ignore. She doesn't romanticize or sentimentalize the lives detailed in order to make this work more palatable. It's a realistic and honest portrait. If the sociology of the world's poor interests you, and you can suspend disbelief that a white middle class woman can, through three years of immersion, fully understand the minds and motives of slum dwellers, then Boo's book will not only give you an unvarnished view, but will also resonate and be a captivating read.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Jeanette Great review, Stuart. I had some similar thoughts re your second paragraph. Well said.


Stuart Thanks, Jeanette.


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