Well, reading the book gives me the opportunity to check off “a book with antonyms in the title” from my 2015 PopSugar Reading Challenge, but that’s the best I can say about Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.
As my mother recently remarked about my blog, “What I like about what you write is that we are never left wondering what you really think about a subject!”
I hated this book. I spent money and time on it only so I could contribute to the conversation about it in book club. I wish I could forget the smell of trash and sewage, the images of death and the intractability of the problems exposed in this story. To be fair, many readers in my book club gave the book a 5 out of 5 rating for its investigative journalism and educational value.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the story of Abdul (and about a hundred other residents — try keeping all of them straight) and his life in Annawadi, an illegal slum of trash, sewage and corruption outside the Mumbai airport. Author Katherine Boo, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, writes poetically and politically about the horrors of poverty in India; she thoroughly covers “life” and “death” but I found zero “hope” in the narrative.
It’s a true story, I found out at the end in reading the author’s note. I wish it would have been placed at the beginning of the book. Though thoroughly documented (she goes to great pains to point out), I found Boo’s pitying, judging perspective to be overwhelming.
This is one of those books that gets good reviews because the author suffered so much in getting the story (oh, and she’s from New York, at least part of the time; everything that comes out of the New York literary scene is wonderful). It uses a lot of big words — wow, I’m so impressed with your command of the English language (thank goodness I read it on Kindle with its click-to-define dictionary). This work is not for anyone who prizes a logical plot and compelling distraction.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is daring, I’ll give it that, and dark. Proceed at your own risk.