Ann'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 11, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: biog-autobiog, india-paki
Recommended to Ann by: best books lists

"Every country has its myths, and one that successful Indians liked to indulge was a romance of instability and adaptation--the idea that their country's rapid rise derived in part from the chaotic unpredictability of daily life. In America and Europe, it was said, people know what is going to happen when they turn on the water tap or flick the light switch. In India, a land of few safe assumptions, chronic uncertainty was said to have helped produce a nation of quick-witted, creative problem-solvers.
"Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating. "We try so many things," as one Annawadi girl put it, "but the world doesn't move in our favor.""

"The effect of corruption I find most underacknowledged is a contraction not of economic possibility but of our moral universe. In my reporting, I am continually struck by the ethical imaginations of young people, even those in circumstances so desperate that selfishness would be an asset. Children have little power to act on those imaginations, and by the time they grow up, they may have become the adults who keep walking as a bleeding waste-picker slowly dies on the roadside, who turn away when a burned woman writhes, whose first reaction when a vibrant teenager drinks rat poison is a shrug. How does that happen? How--to use Abdul's formulation--do children intent on being ice become water? ... What appeared to be indifference to other people's suffering had little to do with reincarnation, and less to do with being born brutish. I believe it had a good deal to do with conditions that had sabotaged their innate capacity for moral action.
In places where government priorities and market imperatives create a world so capricious that to help a neighbor is to risk your ability to feed your family, and sometimes even your own liberty, the idea of the mutually supportive poor community is demolished.
... If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?"

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