By Oona Holahan ’17
Synopsis: New York Times Bestselling author Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction book that tells the story of the struggles and inequality found in Annawadi, a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai, India. The story is told through the experiences of different residents of the slum, from the hopeful trash-picker Abdul Hussain, to the diligent and studious Manju. When Abdul is accused of a crime he did not commit, the members of the slum become involved in navigating challenges pertaining to religion, identity and caste.
I absolutely enjoyed this book and could not put it down. Though it is a work of nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers reads like a novel, rife with intensity, interesting characters and a compelling storyline.
Each chapter follows a certain character, describing events that they experience in their everyday life. These range from heartwarming occurrences to events that are so dark and brutal that they are challenging to read.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the emphasis placed on the outside world of greater India. Though the main focus is on the particular slum, Annawadi has a very close proximity to upper class Mumbai. On multiple occasions, the book describes the extravagant atmosphere of the brilliantly-lit luxury hotels, and the ever-expanding airport. This juxtaposition of worlds really highlights the social inequality and need for drastic change.
Additionally, the book includes some very interesting commentary on the state of Indian politics. Katherine Boo unmercilessly describes political corruption through her portrayal of Asha, a woman who strives to rise out of poverty. As Asha engages in underhanded and shady political maneuvers, the reader sees the appalling institutionalized corruption imbedded in all levels of the Indian political sphere.
Though at first I was annoyed with the writing style, judging it as melodramatic and frustratingly romanticized, Boo won me over. My main suggestion is to read the Author’s Note before embarking on the journey. This end piece really sets the stage for the book and provides necessary background information that I felt would have been better to read earlier on.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is not a comfortable book to read. It is brutal and horrifying. However, the underlying theme of hope and perseverance is uplifting and provides an incredible celebration of the human spirit. I would definitely suggest looking into this book!