Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Mumbai is a city of immense wealth as well as supreme poverty.  Just next to the airport, around the corner from gleaming luxury hotels sits the Annawadi slum.  Here, families squat on the land owned by the airport and make lives with much less than we would ever think possible.  Though their homes could be torn down at any time, they take pride in the tarps and flimsy walls.  They invest in new tile when they see money come in and put on festivals akin to neighborhood block parties.

Katherine Boo spent three and a half years reporting from this “overcity” and introduces us to some of its dwellers.  There is Abdul Husain, a quiet but hardworking teenager who sorts garbage to be recycled.  This business venture has helped his family achieve enough wealth to make some of their neighbors jealous.  One such neighbor is Fatima, “the One Leg.”  After picking a fight with Abdul’s family she sets herself on fire and blames the Husain family.  Then there is Asha, who strives to be the rare female slumlord.  She is very familiar with the corruption that pervades the slums of India and tries to facilitate some such corruption to ease the Husain’s trial…for a kickback of course.  Asha’s daughter, Manju, has more legitimate aspirations.  She wants to be Annawadi’s first female college graduate but is learning how hard it is to make it out of the slums, even with an education.

I was unaware of the economic gulf between the rich and poor in India until “Slumdog Millionaire” came out.  But still, that was just a movie.  This is real life, but Annawadi is its own world.  The people documented have very real hopes and are working very hard to make something out of nothing.

behind the beautiful forevers

4 out of 5 stars.