Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by on July 10th, 2012
Behind the Beautiful Forevers Cover Image

I was almost a third of the way through Katherine Boo’s book about life in a Mumbai slum before I realized that what I was reading a non-fiction account and not a novel. Despite its disturbing subject matter, this book was a pleasure to read. With immersive prose rather than distant description, Boo tells the stories of the people of Annawadi, an outcast neighborhood separated from the gleaming hotels of the Mumbai International Airport by a concrete wall plastered with the slogan for a popular floor tile, BEAUTIFUL FOREVER, BEAUTIFUL FOREVER. The juxtaposition of rich and poor is constant throughout the book and a source of Boo’s most powerful writing:

Now it poured, a stinging rain. On the high grounds of the liquid city, rich people spoke of the romance of monsoon: the languorous sex, retail therapy, and hot jalebis that eased July into August. At Annawadi, the sewage lake crept forward like a living thing. Sick water buffalo nosed for food through mounds of wet, devalued garbage, shitting out the consequences of bad choices with a velocity Annawadi water taps had never equaled. People, also sick, stamped the mud from their feet and said, “My stomach is on fire, my chest.” “All up and down this leg, all night.” The sewage lake’s frogs sang sympathetically, but you couldn’t hear the frogsong indoors. Rain banged on the metal rooftops as if slum zebras were stampeding overhead.

Despite writing about people born into an unfair and inflexible social structure, many of whom will only leave Annawadi upon death; Boo does not romanticize or shrink from reporting the human pettiness, jealousies and cruelties that exist within the slum social structure.

Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes…they destroyed themselves in the process. When they were fortunate,…they improved their lots by beggaring the life chances of other poor people.

India is a fascinating, beautiful and intriguing country, but I encourage you to read this book, tuck it away in the back of your mind and use it if needed to look Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

One Response to “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”

  1. dmr says:

    I have been wanting to read this book, but I’ve been afraid it would be too sad. Thanks for a great review!

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