Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo has written a beautiful story of life in the slums of Mumbai. This is a non-fiction book, not something that I do well with. Maybe 10 pages a day. By the time I'm half way through a non-fiction book, it is overdue at the library. I read this book like a rocket ship blasting off. I couldn't put it down.


Boo has a cast of characters who are all very, very plausible. They have come to the slum in Mumbai beside the airport via different decisions. Meena, a 15 year old girl, is the first child to have ever been born in this slum. In other words, as the airport developed, so too did the slum and the sewage lake beside it.

Boo appears to have done considerable research and has lots of personal experience in Mumbai. She has used the device of several family's crisis and successes to hang her research upon. I haven't read any reviews, although John Green,   http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11870085-the-fault-in-our-stars a terrific author recommended this book, which is how I fell onto it. My theory, unsupported as my theories usually are, is that Katherine Boo has used the stories of many, many people to shape each character. Meena, the 15 year old girl, is a minor character. But her pending marriage and decision on how to respond to this unwanted relationship gave me the weep-ies.

Abdul is a young man who has been sorting trash for most of his life. His entire family depends upon his speed and skill to get ahead. It means a better life for everyone; medicine for his sick father, dowries for his sisters, an education of sorts for his brothers and horribly, not much for Abdul. He will need to find a wife who can stand his stink.

google images
Abdul finds himself blamed for an extremely petty and ill considered squabble. The extremes to which people will go to 'win' or to gain 'power' in a powerless situation is one of many underlying themes. Katherine Boo reveals, through her character's tribulations, the horrors these people face every day, all day. Terrible health, flooding, pollution, ridiculous standards of education, corruption at every implacable turn, corruption as a means of bettering oneself. How does one respond morally to corruption? Do we try to avoid it, confront it, appease it? And how do people from outside view all this? Do we really understand what is going on? Do we really appreciate the deep levels of corruption, from the recipients of national government funds or not-for-profit organizations funds all the way down to the children in the slums.

I really can't recommend this book enough. It takes you to a place of travel most of us will never willingly go, to a group of people we will never, ever meet. The reader sees into the hearts and minds of so many people in a desperate situation. Hope? Yes.
google image

One of the themes the College of Sustainability strives towards is finding hope in dreary, deadlocked situations. We call it the "Where's Herman" moment? Herman was a local farmer who for years had an organic dairy farm, in a province that refused to stream the organic milk separately from non-organic milk (shall we say more precisely, pesticide and hormone free milk). Herman persisted for years. At retirement, he was still lov'n and milking his cows, putting this great product into the main stream of milk and hoping one day Nova Scotia would wake up. And it did. We now have an organic milk option at the Farmer's Market.

The "Where's Herman" moments in Behind the Beautiful Forevers are small. They come from individuals, people who look around them and find ways to remain true to humanity and dignity in the face of an all mighty oppression. It certainly takes any excuse we might have towards our own governmental oppressions and growing lack of civil rights and life style lack of options look rather feeble.

No comments:

Post a Comment