Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

3.5 Stars
“What you don’t want is always going to be with you
What you want is never going to be with you
Where you don’t want to go, you have to go
And the moment you think you’re going to live more, you’re going to die.”

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity has a blurb even longer than its title. To briefly sum up the plot, this is a the story of Annawadi, a slum settled right in the heart of the airport and luxury hotels of Mumbai, and what happened to its residents over the course of three years.

My glimpses of Mumbai have been from the eyes of the stereotypical “ugly American” who passes through during one leg of the Amazing Race and from those glimpses I have developed a morose fascination (which probably makes me an even uglier American). I don’t get out much, so Katherine Boo’s novel is probably the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing life in the slums for myself. While I found the horrors I expected, such as unsanitary living conditions and life-threatening ways in which to earn enough money to survive, I also saw a people filled with hope. Hope for a better life – hope for a way out – hope for more equality – hope that the next generation wouldn’t have to experience quite as many hardships as the current one. The same hope as many of us here in America.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers loses some Stars because I got a little caught up in the mire of sooooooo many individual stories. While I realize that, were I in Ms. Boo’s situation, I too would want to share as much as possible about the Annawadi residents, at some point a line had to be drawn and characters cut. While the lives of Abdul and his family and Asha and hers felt nearly complete and were more vivid with detail, others like Kalu and Sunil seemed to be stories she had heard of “through the grapevine” so to speak and were included in order to add a bit more to the misery factor. At the end of the day, the main character of this book was the slum itself – the characters just lived there.

Favorite quote:

“If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on which it sits is uneven, is it possible to make anything straight?”

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Holy moly – I read two smart people books in the same week. My brain is going to be HUGE!

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