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Nonfiction Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forever: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Author: Katherine Boo
Year Published: 2012

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 254
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)India

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi's "most-everything girl," might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forever, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century's hidden worlds--and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.

Review: As my brother and sister-in-law gave me this one at Christmas, they both said how much they loved it so I was really looking forward to reading it. And, the past couple of books I've read have been okay and I needed to read something that would grab me by the heart and pull me in.

This book won The National Book Award, The PEN / John Kenneth Gailbraith Award, and others. No pressure.... Hmmm. I liked this book, but wasn't wow'd. Maybe it's me, but then I checked Goodreads and it has a 3.98 overall rating. The writing is good and the topic is fascinating, but I wasn't sucked into the book like I hoped I would be. Maybe that's because an all-knowing anonymous narrator tells the stories of the people the author got to know. It does read like a novel even though it is non-fiction so that's good.

All that said, I did find aspects of this book fascinating. Getting a look inside a Mumbai slum--the details of every day life, how the economy works (or doesn't), the living conditions (who knew there were TVs in some of the huts?!), the treatment of humans from other slum dwellers as well as the Indian government (appalling), and the drive to survive--amazed me. I don't think I realized quite how sophisticated it all is and I feel as if my eyes have been opened to a whole new way of thinking about poverty and for that I am grateful.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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