Sunday, February 3, 2013

ReView of BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS by Katherine Boo

NonFiction / India - 262 pgs
Random House (first published in 2012)

This book, no doubt, will leave you feeling at your lowest and saddest.  It starts off powerfully larger than life.  As you continue to read it though, the story of poverty and corruption, because so ubiquitous and so broadly terrorizing to your psyche, will break your emotions.  You'll feel. You'll even cry.  But you'll feel a lot of sadness, most of all.  With a little bit of hope, too.


After I got over the shock of the corruption taking place in Mumbai, India, I was trying to figure out where this book fits in our culture, our society, and our world in general.  It wasn't until I got to the author's note that I finally had some hope that this book was going to bring more than just ultimate sadness.  It's the following passage that sealed for me what the book ultimate scope is.

"In places where government priorities and market imperatives create a world so capricious that to help a neighbor is to risk your ability to feed your family, and sometimes even your own liberty, the idea of the mutually supportive poor community is demolished.  The poor blame one another for the choices of governments and markets, and we who are not poor are ready to blame the poor just as harshly.

It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in under-cities governed by corruption where exhausted people lie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good.  The astonishment is that some people are good, and that many people try to be... all those individuals who every day find themselves faced with dilemmas not unlike the one Abdul confronted, stone slab in hand, one July afternoon when his life exploded. If the house is crooked and crumbling and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?"

Katherine Boo does write in a very fiction-like way.  The 'characters' in the book, and their lives seem to mirror those of novelistic characters.  She doesn't tell the story of the people of Mumbai in a sequential fashion but more in a plot-driven kind of way weaving back and forth from the macro to the micro and vice versa.  The book is very special in this way.  It is probably the most significant aspect of how it will make you feel, besides obviously the reality of the lives of the people of Mumbai, India.
I felt at some point during the book that there was going to be no sign of hope for the circumstances being described.  I mean, every page you turned had some level of corruption.  Every chapter had a story of doom.  There were moments when I couldn't stomach the tragedies.  I felt horrible for being so helpless.  

On the upside, though, it's these dire circumstances that prompt you, to possibly do something, if you're a person who likes to get involved. And if anything, that something can be as small as a conversation for awareness, to let people know to read this story. 

The hope I found with this book is the possibility, the opportunity for discourse.  If change starts at any point, it is at the point of open and honest discussion of the reality of our lives - whether based on those in India or those close to home. And I think this is what Katherine Boo is trying to emphasize.  We must take a look at how far poverty and corruption can take us, and we then have to ask ourselves what factors are involved.  

There's also the topic of human perserverence and the discussion that involves how much strength, courage, and ambition one must have to escape the dire conditions in which you are brought up in.  Katherine Boo did an amazing job painting this picture, even though the number of people who do escape these tragic conditions may be one in a milion.  

She did a great job, overall.  I was really happy to have read this book. It opened my eyes beyond my expectations.






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