Katherine Boo’s non-fiction work, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” is a gripping expose of life in one of India’s poorest slums. Annawadi is a slum that grew beside the expansive Mumbai International Airport complex. Boo’s story follows the lives of several Annawadi families as they churn through their own dramas and through the shockingly sad case of The One Leg.
“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” reads like a well-paced novel. Reminding myself that this isn’t just a story, that this is a true account of these real people’s lives, made the tale all the more horrifying and heart wrenching. Boo writes the characters beautifully and honestly. You feel like you really know these people who live in unimaginable squalor. Despite their social status, experiences, living conditions and work, most of them maintain an admirable hopefulness about the future. They struggle every day to bring themselves a speck closer to their goals.
I highly recommend this book. I couldn’t put it down, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these amazing Indians. Though the story isn’t a happy one, it is vital to the understanding of global inequality. Annawadi is a perfect example of the same wealth and poverty disparities seen in major U.S. cities, and large cities around the world. These people live across a busy road from some of the wealthiest residents and tourists of Mumbai. They are constantly gazing at the City’s most successful, but the gaze is not returned. The residents of Annawadi need you to know them. Their invisibility in Mumbai is a large part of their plight. The more people know and care what happens to them, the more opportunity will be afforded them.
So pick up the book and get to know Abdul, Sunil, Asha, and so many others. And don’t skip the Author’s Note at the end. Her goals and interests are not irrelevant to the story.