Friday, 7 August 2015

Book Travels: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo

'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' made compelling reading for me.  I still haven't got the book out of my head several weeks later, and perhaps I never should.  This is real life but so far removed from anything I have known that it feels like fiction.  It would feel too trite to say it made me more grateful for what I have.  On the other hand, it should make me more grateful.

The book has also been made into a play by David Hare.  In the advertising publicity is this line:
It's not just that rich people don't know what they've got. They don't even know what they throw away.
You, like me, might not have considered yourself a rich person, but when I think about the things I throw away - recycle - and the difference it might make to people's lives in Annawadi, the Mumbai slum or 'undercity', where the 'story' of the book resides, I realise that yes, I am.  

This is a work of non-fiction, but it will affect you like the best novel.  It's the story of people: fascinating, colourful, tenacious people.  The portrait of life is raw, gripping and, often, terrible. There is grinding poverty, death, suicide, crime, brutality and corruption.  Yet, somehow, it is not a misery story because of the hope and the resilience of the people who Katherine Boo describes without judgement and in flowing, irresistible prose.

It is no wonder that this book won a Pulitzer Prize.

I love the book's dedication:
For two Sunils, and what they've taught me about not giving up
It is this spirit of not giving up which makes the book so special.

Powerful and curiously uplifting, I found much that was personally inspiring.  My favourite thought was perhaps this one:
Sunil thought that he, too, had a life.  A bad life, certainly ...  But something he'd come to realize on the roof, leaning out, thinking about what would happen if he leaned too far, was that a boy's life could still matter to himself.      


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