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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death & Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, 2012, * * * *

 This is a deeply researched account of the resident of a Mumbai, India slum written by Katherine Boo, a Pulitzer prize winner and staff writer for The New Yorker.   Divided into four parts, the book brings to life the world of Annawadi, a half-acre of sewage-lake and 335 huts that look as though they "had fallen out of the sky and gotten smashed upon landing." Encircling the slum, and just beyond billboards for Italian floor tile whose tagline is 'beautiful forever' are fivey luxury hotels and the Sahar International Airport, a gleaming "overcity" that produces 8,000 tons of garbage per day, garbage from which some of Annawadi's residents scratch a living. Characters include Abdul, an undersized adolescent and sole earner for his parents and eight siblings, a boy with no illusion that he will ever be more than a garbage sorter; Asha, a ruthless schemer who wields political power over her neighbors; and Sunil, a motherless boy who finds a narrow ledge onto which taxi drivers throw used cups and bottles where he scavenges for a living.  Annawadi is teeming, chaotic, intensively alive and rife with death, playing children, drunken parents, wailing women,  rats and weeds. Omly the clever and brave survive. One can hope for justice, but what is hope compared to money? Mumbai's lifeblood is corruption and allocated resources rarely wind up where they are supposed to.  The book is fascinating but there is no redemption for any of the characters and no recommendations to make things better.  The problem of poverty, not just in India, is so pervasive that it is not clear that it can be fixed without a massive culture shift in some cases and significant amounts of funding in others.  The writing leaves an indelible impression of human beings behind the shibboleths of the New India. 

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading this and would definitely recommend this to any and everyone - I had no idea that a work of non-fiction could be ranked so highly on a literary scale. Which is where I rank it - very high on literary skills. That is not counting all the other hundreds of great things people have said about this book which also I fully endorse. Run and pick this up - or get it on your Kindle while you are reading this.