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Random House LLC
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity Kindle Edition
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|Length: 290 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
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Katherine Boo is blessed with perception, awareness and understanding. I was blown away by her ability to capture the everyday judgements, intentions and attitudes of the residents of Annawadi and to provide an intimate looks into the oppression, corruption and abuse of poverty.
It takes a while until the basis for the title of the book becomes clear. It turns out that the road alongside the airport, taking people from their arrivals and departures and leading to the modern hotels and relative wealth of the city, is lined with large signs, advertisements that say 'Beautiful Forever' as part of the products slogan, again and again. It is behind these road signs, erected not only to promote the product but also to block the view from the roadway to the slums, so that travelers and other more fortunates are not disturbed by such sights as they pass by.
I enjoyed this book as well as learned from it, insights into some of the day to day details of life for these people, and how they manage within their own sub societies to scrape out a living. Imagine, if you can, earning money by foraging through garbage for any small scraps of metal or plastic that could be of value and could be sold to recyclers or scrap agents, at best earning pennies each day and at times not having enough money for even the simplest meal. It is a life that is hard to imagine even when reading about it, but it exists and is very real to those who live there today and will continue to live in these circumstances for the foreseeable future.
-- It reads like a novel, even a thriller, not a book of nonfiction. Katherine Boo drops you into the action from the very first page: a diligent and principled boy escaping from the authorities for a crime he didn't commit. She gets you inside the head of the 16-year old garbage collector, his fears, his motivations, his rat-infested pile of trash which is his only hiding place. From there, she radiates out into the entire slum of Annawadi, into the minds of few dozen other characters from the 3000 families huddled around a sewage lake next to the gleaming Mumbai Airport and its luxury hotels.
-- It's an extraordinary feat of reporting. For the central event of the book, Boo does 168 interviews. Additionally, she digs up 3000 government documents (no mean feat in the Indian bureaucracy) and spends 4 years of being right there with these folks. As a result, you come to understand the interconnectedness of all the lives of these complex, talented, vibrant people: their ethnic, religious and caste strife; their dealings with systemic corruption wherever they go; and the wages of crushing poverty, how they adapt to it, how they hope to escape to a better life. The suffering is real and deep, yet somehow Katherine Boo conveys the heartbreak without being preachy or sentimental.
-- It's also a call to action. You cannot read this book without having it soften your heart, expand your circle of compassion, understand the global consequences of everything we do, and have greater gratitude for all the privileges many of us take for granted.
The writing is also fluidly beautiful. This book is one of the best I've read in any genre. Read it to understand life a little better.
-- Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil., Happiness Engineer
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity