Amy'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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's review
Feb 06, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: india-south-asia
Read in July, 2012

A neighborhood story like none other.

Abdul, a teenager, supports his family sorting garbage. He doesn't expect life to change much--even washing up in the morning suggests too much hope that today might be different than yesterday. But he's a deep thinker and tries to find his own moral compass, tries to figure out how to be special (ice instead of just water).

Manju is the college-educated girl. She memorizes summaries of the world's great books (a process she calls "by-hearting") instead of actually reading them. She fears an arranged marriage that would send her out to the sticks, and she looks forward with her best friend to a week-long dance festival.

Asha wants to be a slumlord and sets in motion scheme after scheme to get out of Annawadi. Because you never know which one will work. She is a local political fixer, always taking her cut, and always studying the mannerisms of people who are better off.

These are just some of the characters you come to know around the open sewers and rat-infested huts of Annawadi. They are trying to make choices in a system that actually doesn't offer them any. They're not presented as noble in their suffering. They're not used as faces to introduce political/economic discourse. They're just people. People I'll be wondering about now.

The corruption stunned me more than the details of the poverty. It's at all levels--police, doctors, teachers, everyone. It's trickle-down corruption. Asha's constant scheming shows how every government program to help the poor is an opportunity for fraud, by the poor, against the poor. International charities are defrauded too, so even though I'm disturbed about these sad slum conditions, I'm not inclined to write a check to anyone who claims to be fixing them.

Outstanding writing. One of the best books I've read all year.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Excellent review, Amy. I was appalled by the corruption, too.

message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Thanks Jeanette. I knew about the corruption at an abstract level; much harder to read about how it really affects people's lives.

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