Sunday, July 13, 2014

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo

Imagine that you are exiting the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Aiport in Mumbai, India when you see the words Beautiful Forever inscribed in bright yellow paint on tall block walls across the highway. What do you think might lie behind those walls? Can you envision stucco -covered homes with bright tropical flowers and palm trees surrounding sparkling swimming pools? Mumbai is, after all, the financial, commercial  and entertainment  center of India. Surely Beautiful Forever must be an elite residential development, don’t you think?

Now, just for kicks, google Annawadi, Mumbai, India. Are you as shocked as I was to see images of what lies behind the Beautiful Forever walls? If so, you really must read Katherine Boo’s National Book Award-winner, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Boo, an investigative journalist who as a reporter for the Washington Post won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for a series  about mistreatment of underprivileged mentally challenged residents in our nation’s capital city, has always chosen to report about disadvantage and poverty. She became interested in India, home to ‘one-third of the world’s poverty and one-fourth of the planet’s hunger,’ when she married an Indian man.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the true-life story of residents of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. As the book opens we are introduced to Abdul Hussain, a 16-year old boy who supports his family of 10 by trading in trash. Abdul’s neighbor, a one-legged woman named Sita was seriously burned, and later would die, following the collapse of a communal wall between the two homes. Abdul is accused of her murder. As the book progresses we learn about the web of corruption throughout the Indian social, political, and judicial systems. Boo argues that the unpredictability of daily life grinds down individual promise and weak government proves better at nourishing corruption than caring for its people.

I have never been a big fan of expository writing, but I found  Beyond the Beautiful Forevers riveting.  It reads like a best-selling mystery novel yet is firmly grounded in fact. To learn the fate of Abdul and other Annawadi residents, you must read the book for yourselves. While I won my copy in an editor’s give away, you can purchase the book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent book seller; or borrow it from your local public library. You won’t be sorry you did

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