Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I wasn't terribly excited when my book club chose Behind the Beautiful Forevers and, truth be told, I hated the first two-thirds of it. I felt that Boo was being dishonest - it read too much like fiction to be real - how could one woman account for so much happening at the same time, report what multiple peoples' thoughts were at one moment?

My journalist neighbor and friend gently rebuffed me in our building's laundry room as being a bit ungracious. She gave me some background on Katherine Boo, and what actually went into writing the book. I decided to keep reading it and gave her another chance. That said, when picking this up (and you should!), read the afterward first. It will enhance your reading experience, I promise!

This is not an enjoyable read. It is depressing and will make you feel terrible. Reading it reminded me of going on "missions trips" to Mexico in the junior high - you see and hear such terrible things, make absolutely no difference in the lives of people you are supposed to be helping, and the whole experience makes you incessantly grateful for what you have that for a week or two that you stumble around, not being bothered by minor inconveniences that would normally irritate, happy to have the possibility of being happy.

The very fact that slums still exist is awful, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers truly takes it to another level. Boo spent years with her subjects. The accounts of squalor are astounding, and even more troubling is the complete and absolute corruption in India. Reading about this corruption made me feel hopeless; what can possibly be done?

This is journalism at its best, raw and true and awful. I wish there had been some analysis at the end, perhaps some recommendations for further research or reading.



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