The full title of this book by Katherine Boo, a staff writer on New York magazine, is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a MumbaiUndercity. If you enjoy uplifting stories that bring joy and hope to the human spirit, then grab anything OTHER than this book. This one is 300 pages of what I felt was total despair. It is the story of several families who strive mightily to get through each day in the God-forsaken slums of Annawadi, a cardboard and tin hovel sliced between the modern MumbaiInternationalAirport and the luxurious four-star hotels of what the world perceives as a new economically powerful India.
Reading this book, for me, was not unlike observing a train wreck. You know what’s coming but you just can’t look away. Katherine Boo, who is married to an Indian man, spent three years living with the people of Annawadi. We get to meet several of them and come to understand what real poverty is like. The corruption, hopelessness, lack of education and paucity of value for human life is heartbreaking. Young children spending their waking hours scouring the area for whatever piece of trash and garbage might have any value and then having to sneak home past police who demand extortion to older boys who steal their day’s findings and beat them unmercifully. It is little wonder suicide becomes an everyday thought process.
I would love to tell you that I can’t reveal the ending because good things happen to improve the lives of the people we have come to know in Annawadi. It ends as it began, the garbage, rat bites, head lice, sickness and death that make up each sunrise and sunset continue. There have been few days since I finished the book that I have not thought about it. It’s a powerful portrait of a world I knew nothing about. I gave this book four stars because it makes you “feel” and any book that can do that deserves reading. I would feel better though, if this had been a novel.