Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo I struggled a lot with how to review this because it's hard to separate the quality of the book from how it made me feel. So let me first say that Katherine Boo is an excellent writer and a dedicated observer. The book often reads like a novel, although it may not be the kind of novel you'd want to read. Life in the Annawadi slum is brutal, and sometimes your neighbors are the ones most determined to make you suffer. The specific residents Boo chose to follow over a four-year period ended up embroiled in some ugly situations brought on by fellow sufferers who should have been helping rather than trying to hurt. I had to work at not hating some of the people who live behind the wall advertising "BEAUTIFUL FOREVER" floor tiles. The competition for limited resources and the need for most human beings to feel superior to someone makes many of the slumdwellers behave abominably, thinking only of their own survival while lying, cheating, and ruining the lives of their neighbors. I felt agitated the entire time I was reading this book. I can understand the author's purpose in showing us what life is like in a Mumbai slum, and how changes in the global economy affect those who subsist on the garbage left by the wealthy. I certainly feel compassion for these people, but aside from that, all I can feel is helpless. Perhaps the author does too good a job of illustrating how difficult it is to provide assistance. Corruption is so prevalent that foreign and domestic monies intended for educating and housing the poor never reach those in need. I don't see a lot of hope for change here, although many of the Annawadi residents cling to hope while others around them are eating rat poison to escape the misery. This is the one thing I did find that was most praiseworthy about some of the people in the slum. Their hope for something better remains alive, and they keep trying one thing after another, no matter how many times they get beaten down and refused. They are brave and resourceful, even if they have to lie to themselves every day just to keep that hope from dying.