Random House Publishing Group|February 7, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4000-6755-8
From the Pulitzer Prize-winner, Katherine Book, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, see “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Aha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter – Annawadi’s “most everything girl” – will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians like, Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people.
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a work of nonfiction that is hard to believe. Realizing that the people in this story are real, the incidents that took place are real, and the fact that such a horrible slum as this even exists in Mumbai is hard to swallow. What a sad and depressing way to be forced to live.
I was utterly astonished and truly affected upon the realization that entire families live, literally, in ‘cardboard’ huts. There is no real protection from the elements or the rats that chew on the children’s faces as they sleep. As a mother, it would pain me deeply to be forced to raise my children under such dire circumstances. When the storms come, the huts are flooded with raw sewage and the smell is overpowering. Sickness is prevalent and the medical care is atrocious as the hospitals are filthy dirty. The condition and health of the women and girls was especially distressing to me. These poor souls live in a very harsh and unforgiving environment and one of the poorest of the poor.
There is no escape for these people, no upward mobility, and no way to advance to get themselves out of living in this horrible tragic life. The extreme level of poverty is truly sickening and I’ve been so affected by this story that it has propelled me into looking at a donation of some sort to an organization that might be able to help these people.
Katherine Boo has written a remarkable, thoroughly researched, engaging, insightful, educational, and informative ethnography of slum life on the outskirts of Mumbai in Annwadi. Boo’s ability to capture the devastating toll this type of living has on its inhabitants is truly phenomenal.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a must read in order to fully understand the degrading and indignant conditions in which some of our fellow human beings are forced to live. It has been quite a while where I have personally been so affected by a piece of writing. As I finish this review my shock factor is still at its height.