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
Jul 07, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: nonfiction, read-in-2012
Read from July 07 to 24, 2012

This is not an easy book to read - there's no way to write about slums in India that makes it easy. But the author does a pretty amazing job of showing what life is like there. It reads like a novel, but it is classified as non-fiction (narrative nonfiction). The author is a journalist who spent several years living in Mumbai and observing and documenting the life of the people who live in the slum of Annawadi - this is a large slum immediately outside the international airport of Mumbai. Which means they are a stone's throw from the huge fancy hotels at the airport, and the contrast is striking to say the least.

I think it must be hard to write about this type of poverty without veering into total sentimentality and a sort of western "glorification" of poverty in developing nations, but this book seems like the opposite of that. The author is very matter-of-fact about life there, she doesn't put herself into the narrative at all, she merely presents the lives of these particular characters (who are real people, not just characters) and you see it for what it is. I still cannot quite wrap my mind around the reality of the life some people are living - this is not like any poverty I have ever seen or experienced or imagined.

But I think what struck me the most is the corruption. I don't see myself as naive - I have travelled to a few different countries (though not India), I have friends who have lived in many different countries, and I know that in many places in this world, bribes are how things get done. It's not always a good/bad issue, it's just the way things are. You pass a little money to certain people and things go more smoothly. But if you can take the information in this book to be factual, this is corruption way beyond anything I've ever heard of. You can literally get NOTHING done without paying off someone - the police, the government, the people in charge of nonprofits, the person in the slum who is the informal "slumlord", everyone. It blew my mind to think about living in this type of society. And yet she does point out that in some ways, corruption gives the poorest people the only opportunity they have to make a difference in their lives for the better sometimes. It's just that there are absolutely no easy answers.

I couldn't decide what to rate this book, but the Author's Note at the end was what clinched it for 5 stars. She really laid out her time there, some of her thoughts and motives in writing the book that made a huge impression on me after finishing the last chapter. I still can't get this book out of my mind, I'm ruminating on it and I have a feeling it will stay with me for awhile.

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