Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by Katherine Boo Year Published: 2012 Non-fiction, Social Science

This book has taken me to the slum of Annawadi located between the luxury hotels and Mumbai International Airport in Mumbai, India. To the story of a few Hindu and Muslim families whose lives intersect at jealousy and hope, bringing destruction and a sense of self. And so many more human emotions that I’ve never experienced in my life.

Journalist Katherine Boo explores the question of what it takes to rise from poverty and what it means when one family rises above another. Corruption is deeply rooted in the interactions between the slum dwellers and any form of authority.

Beyond her focus of poverty, there’s also the rigid gender rolls imposed upon the women and young girls, leading to many suicides.

Horrifying, shocking, and unjust events are narrated in this book, and many people might respond with how fortunate they are not to live there. However, I don’t know that it’s overly fair to compare our lives to their lives just to make us feel better. Instead, I read books like this one as a way to better understand humanity throughout the world.

I hesitate to also judge and say that they are “happy” because “happiness” is a human construct. One that we talk about here in the US but I don’t know what it means in India. Therefore, I cannot determine their happiness.

But I can see the humanity in Manju’s desire, as a teenager, to be the best possible teacher for the young kids who attend the school her mother set-up only to take advantage of the organizations that fund it. In Sunil’s determination of not becoming a teenage thief in order to supplement his income. And his personal struggle once he does become a thief. In Abdul’s dedication to his job as a garbage picker, single handedly building a better life for his family at age 17. And in his convictions to stick to the truth when he is falsely accused of setting a woman on fire and how he could have gotten out of it had he agreed to pay the corrupt officials who held his fate in their hands.

This story is a beautiful work of non-fiction that helps me to better understand our world and the people who live in it.

I highly recommend it.