Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Katherine Boo)

2012 National Book Award Winner - Non Fiction

I recently finished this book and I wanted to take a minute to recommend it to everyone I know, especially Indians. The story is a non-fiction narrative about a rag-picker, his family and the dynamics of socio-economic mobility in a Mumbai slum . A non-fiction narrative -  that means the narrator is accurately portraying the inner thoughts and ideas of real people. It's a gripping, gut-wrenching, eye-opening and accessible account of the travails and enterprise of India's destitute.  

The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic. They were certainly not passive.  Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century. Official statistics offered some indication of how such families were faring. But in India, like many places in the world, including my own country, statistics about the poor sometimes have a tenuous relation to lived experience

The slumdwellers I’d already come to know in India were neither mythic nor pathetic. They were certainly not passive.  Across the country, in communities decidedly short on saviors, they were improvising, often ingeniously, in pursuit of the new economic possibilities of the twenty-first century. Official statistics offered some indication of how such families were faring. But in India, like many places in the world, including my own country, statistics about the poor sometimes have a tenuous relation to lived experience

I want to recommend this book for one, and one reason only - it is inexplicably unique. Because the characters are ordinary and their tales are typical, it reveals the unspoken story of millions of Indians that go unheard.

Living in India, it's very easy to isolate oneself from the inequity and inequality that pervades your life at every juncture. Insular lives are further perpetuated by media that runs on pandering and salacious splash pages.

The author, Katherine Boo, shatters this insularity - as a white woman from Washington D.C. she relocated to India, spent 4 years taping, recording, noting, photographing and documenting every event in this book. She fills the dearth of quality journalism with a relentless professionalism that is awe-inspiring.

I also used more than three thousand public records, many of them obtained after years of petitioning government agencies under India’s landmark Right to Information Act. ………They validated, in detail, many aspects of the story told in these pages.

This research is then woven into a fabric that is harsh, genuine and unmistakably painful. The book does not have a happy ending. Please read it.