book pick
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
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Author
Katherine Boo

publisher
Random House

format
Hardcover

pages
288 pages
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12 January, 2013
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Katherine Boo
About the Book

BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS

During my recent three week trip to northern India, I had a mini-meltdown in Mumbai, a city of enormous contrasts and abundant unanswerable questions. It's very difficult to reconcile the magnificent hotels in the city when directly across the street is a slum where people live on a sheet of blue plastic and children have no food and no clothes. They beg for money, and some of them have even been maimed to make their begging more credible. We never ventured into a slum, but when I got home and started reading BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS by Katherine Boo, I was instantly transported back to Annawadi, a slum that borders on the Mumbai airport. Boo, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, is now a staff writer for the New Yorker, and she and her husband, who is Indian, spend much of their time in his country. Boo makes the truth surpass fiction; Annawadi is on half an acre with 335 huts and three thousand people; a concrete wall is supposed to hide them from the public's view. Boo spent three and a half years in the midst of her subjects. One young subject of the book, Abdul, is described at the hands of India's criminal justice system, and what Boo reveals is a degree of casual corruption that would stun even the most jaded cynic. When Boo finally uses her own voice at the end of the book to explain how a fair-skinned blonde from the New Yorker managed to fit into Annawadi so wholeheartedly, she also frames the ultimate question that BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS addresses: why aren't the slum-dwellers bound together by common interests and common enemies? In this extraordinary, exquisitely accomplished book, Boo crystallizes what she discovered: "Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes, like Fatima, they destroyed themselves in the process."

About the Author
Beyond the book

"[An] exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. …. Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted." - Janet Maslin The New York Times

"Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a testimony to the transcendent power of reportorial humility. Across almost three-hundred pages in which there is scarcely a single false note, Boo has managed a task I would have thought impossible for a foreign journalist in a Mumbai slum: to merge her eyes almost completely with those of her characters." - Jonathan Shainin BookForum