I had read some rave reviews of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is why I picked it up. Wow! I read through practically in one gulp, hardly coming up for air. This is one compelling read, and the truly stunning thing about it is that it is all true. You simply cannot walk away untouched.
Katherine Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered social inequalities in the past. This is her first book, in which she chronicles several years (from late 2007 to early 2011) in the lives of select families living in a slum near the Mumbai International Airport. I am absolutely amazed at the way she was able to get into the hearts and minds of those she studied. As others have said, it reads like a novel, the characterizations are so finely-drawn.
Yes, we have gross inequalities in our own society, but I doubt anything can touch what you will read in these pages. The well-considered thoughts with which she leaves us at the end of the story will haunt you:
"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.'" (p.219)
I have a feeling I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come.
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