Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Recent Reads: "Behind the Beautiful Forevers"

When you open the pages of the book that won the National Book Award for nonfiction “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in aMumbai Undercity” by Katherine Boo, you are directly taken to the slum of Mumbi named Annawadi.

The author follows the lives of particular Anawadians where corruption and unfortunate cycles of ill events happen to them as they try to work their way out of the slum.

Boo explains in her own words, “As every slumdweller knew, there were three main ways out of poverty: finding an entrepreneurial niche…politics and corruption, and education.”

Nowhere in the book are the author’s personal influences or thoughts or emotions on the situation of Annawadi influenced as the stories of these people’s lives are told.

The book reads, in some ways, like fiction; as the author writes in third person, not first which is very common, with close interpretations of the perspectives of situations and life in Annawadi.  As Boo says in the notes at the end of the book, she followed them very closely.  The following quote speaks not only of how the author interoperates the thoughts of the people in whom she is telling about, but also a glimpse at life in a slum.

“The forces of justice had finally come to Annawadi.  That the beneficiaries were horses was a source of bemusement to Sunil and the road boys.

They weren’t thinking about the uninvestigated deaths of Kalu and Sanjay. Annawadi boys broadly accepted the basic truths: that in a modernizing, increasingly prosperous city, their lives were embarrassments best confined to smalls spaces, and their deaths would matter not at all.  The boys were simply puzzled by the fuss, since they considered Robert’s horse the luckiest and most lovingly tended creatures in the slum.”

The book is an eye opening perspective on life in the slum, the sad and unfortunate circumstances for those who live there, and a look at how the corruption of the government is stuck in a very vicious cycle where only the wealthy capitalize and the poor stay very poor.  Being a part of the slumdwellers lives through the book it becomes clear how the corruption is just as prevalent in the lives of the poor, and one unfortunate decision can be twisted to a varying list of outcomes. 

From Boo’s notes:

“It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in under-cities governed by corruption, where exhausted people vie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good.  The astonishment is that some people are good and that many people try to be-all those invisible individuals who every day find themselves faced with dilemmas not unlike the one Abdul confronted, stone slab in hand, one July afternoon when his life exploded.  If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?”

Many questions run through the readers mind as they learn about the Annawadians:  Will they ever be able to change their lives and get out of Annawadi? Will the corruption of the government ever be overturned?  Will there be self-destruction for those who sell out to politics?  Will these people ever have opportunities outside of the slum?

                The book ends for the reader, but the people of Annawadi carry on.  Hopefully perspectives of life in another part of the world will be enlightened and the stories of their existence not forgotten.

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