Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

20130927-090109.jpg Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a well-written account of four years in a Mumbai slum, Annawadi.

Katherine Boo is thorough and clear in her descriptions of slum-dwellers in relation to business and government; and their pain, suffering, and deep-running socioeconomic issues. Boo’s precision comes from her perseverance undertaking numerous and repetitive interviews with people to ensure she understood every angle of a situation.

Although the book is nonfiction, it seems unreal at times. Boo opens our eyes to the tragedy of living in a slum by introducing us to a dozen or so “main characters” — the trash-picker recyclers, the mother trying to join in government corruption, the young woman trying to get an education, teenagers glimpsing adolescent love, the one-legged woman, the females who try to commit suicide by burning or poison, the non-working husbands who are ill or drunk, the wives who have multiple affairs. I read their true, sad, compelling stories in near disbelief.

I struggled reading this book because instead of a linear documentation of events, Boo skipped around the timeline, added flashbacks, and re-told many of the stories. I understand that writing should imitate the subject matter (sad writing bolsters a sad story) but just because the lives of Annawadians are repetitive and circular does not mean that’s the best way to tell their story.

I would have been more engaged if the book was only half as long: do away with the repetitiveness and remembering. Ironically, the author’s note at the end made me tear up, while the main story did not. If Katherine Boo wrote the whole book from her eyes, in a linear timeline, it may have kept my interest.

I’m glad I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers. I’m both grateful and embarrassed for the fortune of America while slum-dwellers in India survive day to day or even hour to hour. The facts of the book are compelling. I just wish the presentation captured me more.

-Calliope

Buy it now Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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