Jonathan Draper'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
Jan 17, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction

Katherine Boo spent more than three years living with and interviewing residents of a Mumbai slum which immigrants from the countryside cobbled together on swamp land they reclaimed on the outskirts of the modernizing airport. With no prospects beyond survival in their villages, they hoped to improve their lives in the city, riding the globalization boom of the early 20th century.

This is an easy read in the sense that Boo's writing, based on tons of conversations and interviews with and observations of the principals, is more novelistic than documentary. On the other hand, as the author recounts the hopes, dreams and efforts of her subjects to get ahead, from the boom times on into the worldwide recession starting in 2008, their futility in the face of a system that is unjust, corrupt and patrimonial makes it hard to read. Even in the modernizing city, people's lives are still branded with age-old feudal caste labels. Instead of uniting in a common cause, the poor are trying to get a leg up on the poorer. And garbage recycling, petty theft or political corruption seem to be the only vocations available.

Boo does a great job of giving her readers insight into the lives of a community of people that would otherwise remain in our minds the one dimensional slum dwellers behind the airport wall. She makes it clear that it is not for lack of intelligence, ingenuity or effort that the people fail. They fail because they are trying to work a system that is working them as they try.

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