Book Reviews,  FOUR STARS ****,  India/Pakistan/Afghanistan,  NON FICTION

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo **** (of 4)

Annawadi, one of a million Indian slums, lies behind Mumbai’s glittering new international airport.  Statistically speaking we all know slums suck, but before this book I don’t think any of us have ever really met the truly poor and destitute.  This book brings them to life with deep honesty and power.  Not surprisingly, like all people, slum dwellers are replete with human foibles and aspirations: competitiveness, ambition, depression, anxiety, desire, anger, and inadequacy.  What the slum dwellers have in common as we come to share their lives is the necessity of fighting for dignity or earning enough for one more meal beneath a system so severely stacked against them as to induce miasthmatic hopelessness.  This isn’t a happy book, but it is an important one, because in bringing poverty and injustice to the fore through the lives of Manju, Asha, Abdul, Kalu, Rahul and their peers we learn to see these people as real rather than faceless abstractions.  Moreover, their plight is not so different from the poor in New York, Paris, or Lagos.  Mostly this book is worth reading because it is so riveting.  Boo’s research is incomparable, her book is a page-turner.