Sue'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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Mar 28, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: india, journalism, culture, non-fiction, kindle, library-book, read-2013
Recommended to Sue by: Mikki

As Katherine Boo states in her Author's Note,


"If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on
which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything
lie straight?"


This applies not only to one of the key incidents in her narrative but to all of India--it's judicial system, schools, police, economy, benevolent organizations. The crookedness and crumbling are everywhere and the people Boo chooses to visit and document over several years are those on the society's bottom rung.

This is a difficult book to read, at some times even more than others, but also important as it is real. These people are living now (or at least as of date of publication!) in what is in some respects one of the most thriving countries on earth, but also one of the most troubled.

Highly recommended and, lest the reader forget, there are places like Annawadi all over the world whether they are physically the same or in the way they kill the inhabitants' spirit. (Yes here too in the US, though we try to cover up sewage lakes)
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Reading Progress

March 28, 2012 – Shelved
March 28, 2012 – Shelved as: india
March 28, 2012 – Shelved as: journalism
June 27, 2013 – Started Reading
June 27, 2013 – Shelved as: culture
June 27, 2013 – Shelved as: non-fiction
June 27, 2013 – Shelved as: kindle
June 27, 2013 – Shelved as: library-book
June 28, 2013 –
11.0% "Difficult to read at times but this is the reality of daily living for millions."
July 6, 2013 –
100.0% "At times throught my reading of this book I kept hoping that these were not real people though I knew they were, with millions more like them."
July 6, 2013 – Shelved as: read-2013
July 6, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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Gary  the Bookworm As you say, this isn't easy to read. Have you read anything by Rohinton Mistry?


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

Sue Yes Gary. I've read A Fine Balance and Family Matters. I thought of A Fine Balance often while reading this. That was one of the saddest novels I've ever read.


·Karen· Fine review, Sue. I like the quote you use, the one with the lie of the land and how nothing can go straight.


Gary  the Bookworm Sue wrote: "Yes Gary. I've read A Fine Balance and Family Matters. I thought of A Fine Balance often while reading this. That was one of the saddest novels I've ever read."
I agree. I never would have read it without Oprah's endorsement. I rarely watched her show but I always paid attention to her list.


Diane Barnes Good review, Sue. My local book club read this a few months back, and we had a great discussion. And when we read "A Fine Balance" a few years ago, it was a favorite.


message 6: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue ·Karen· wrote: "Fine review, Sue. I like the quote you use, the one with the lie of the land and how nothing can go straight."

Thanks Karen. That was such a pivotal part of the book and also so meaningful to the whole story.


message 7: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Diane wrote: "Good review, Sue. My local book club read this a few months back, and we had a great discussion. And when we read "A Fine Balance" a few years ago, it was a favorite."

Thanks Diane. Too excellent books.


Mikki Sue, call it denial but I had difficulty accepting this as non-fiction. Though I know that these conditions exist, the tone of it and the characterization sometimes felt like a novel. I LOVED how the title tied in to the story!


Kris Excellent review, Sue -- and I am so glad you ended with a reminder that many communities live in poverty as severe as that endured by the residents of Annawadi. Boo's ability to draw our attention to the individuals who live in those conditions is critically important. It's too easy to turn off emotionally when reading about conditions like that.


message 10: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted This looks like a good book, and your review certainly reinforces my impression Sue.

It appears to be a great book for putting a human face on a book I read a few years ago called Planet of Slums.


message 11: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I must read this book! So many of my GR friends gave it 5 stars and I've read a lot of fiction set in India.


Mikki Kris wrote: "It's too easy to turn off emotionally when reading about conditions like that. "

That's so true. For me, documentaries are more effective in forcing acceptance of these horrid realities. It's impossible to erase those images whereas when reading about them I'm able to create a mental distance. There are many informative videos available on YouTube that take the viewers directly inside the slums of India and their lowest caste of poor and untouchables. Though difficult to watch it's a necessity.


message 13: by Sue (last edited Jul 07, 2013 06:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Mikki wrote: "Sue, call it denial but I had difficulty accepting this as non-fiction. Though I know that these conditions exist, the tone of it and the characterization sometimes felt like a novel. I LOVED how..."

Mikki, I know how you feel--I felt the same and was anxious to read her afterword. Part of me wanted to think of it in terms of A Fine Balance but I knew that wasn't true. When the title showed up in the story--that was one of the few "fun" moments in the story.


message 14: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Kris wrote: "Excellent review, Sue -- and I am so glad you ended with a reminder that many communities live in poverty as severe as that endured by the residents of Annawadi. Boo's ability to draw our attention..."

Thanks Kris. I think the work Boo does is amazing---seeking out these centers of poverty around the world and writing about them. I found it interesting that even she had to think a bit about going into Annawadi. The fact that she brings her story down to the level of people and their everyday activities is what is most important about this book in my opinion. Hopefully that will allow some people to keep reading where another book might have lost them.


message 15: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Ted wrote: "This looks like a good book, and your review certainly reinforces my impression Sue.

It appears to be a great book for putting a human face on a book I read a few years ago called Planet of Slums."


Just took a look at that book Ted. Yes this does appear to be a companion, at least for that part of the world.


message 16: by Sue (last edited Jul 07, 2013 06:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Teresa wrote: "I must read this book! So many of my GR friends gave it 5 stars and I've read a lot of fiction set in India."

It's not an easy read Teresa, but I do think it's an important one. And Boo writes well.


message 17: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Interesting review, Sue. This book is a selection for the next season in my new book group.


message 18: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Barbara wrote: "Interesting review, Sue. This book is a selection for the next season in my new book group."

It's can be difficult to read Barbara, but it certainly seems important to read it, to see the reality of how so many people live. Boo is an excellent writer and has apparently made this her life work.


message 19: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Cheryl wrote: "Sue, thanks for bringing this book to my attention once again. I will put it on the TBR list and hope that awareness will be the first step toward something better for pockets like this the world o..."

Cheryl, I think it is an important book. We're going to be discussing it at Constant Reader next week and I'm glad for that as the scheduling moved the book up on my list.


Wendy Nice review Sue! And I'm quit embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize this was non-fiction! I've been listening to it on audio and had assumed it was a novel. Knowing that this is all about real people makes the stories shared even more grim!


message 21: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Wendy wrote: "Nice review Sue! And I'm quit embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize this was non-fiction! I've been listening to it on audio and had assumed it was a novel. Knowing that this is all about r..."

So true Wendy. It is so different from our usual lives it does read like fiction especially if you've read anything by Mistry.


Wendy Exactly! The writing feels similar to A Fine Balance. This is the kind of book that really makes you realize that just being fortunate enough to be born in the US instead of a slum in Mumbai is really what makes the difference -- not that you are special or different from the people living under these terrible circumstances, just that you are fortunate that you happened to be born here instead of there. It's very sad when you think about all of the human talent and potential that is untapped. Someone there might find the cure for cancer if only they were given the opportunity to get an education, you know?


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

Sue Exactly. And Mistry writes of the same places in a different time period. His might almost be non-fiction at times.


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