Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity

Author: Katherine Boo

Go ahead, laugh at me

I kind of ran into this book and checked it out based on the title and a brief description. I knew so little about it, in fact, that I was a third of the way through it when one night I told Susan “I’m not really into this book. It’s a novel and the story is pretty good, but I’m just having a hard time getting into it.” After that, I read about the book in the kindle app and found out that it is non-fiction! Susan must have laughed hard for 3 full minutes at the fact that I could mistake a non-fiction for a novel.

Part of what made me think it is a novel was the narrative voice sharing so many insights into the thoughts and meanings that different characters were ascribing to situations or events. In the author’s note, I was able to learn how she was able to achieve this amazing accomplishment, which boiled down to hard work.

The book review as it relates to me

In the early going, the storyline would spark a thought about life or problems here that would distract me from the book. In part, this is what led to my difficulty getting into the story. Once it picked up steam, the central storyline was captivating, and the ancillary stories seemed to have a role in understanding the social complexities of life. 

On many levels, the book strikes very close to home here in Thailand. I am not in a slum-dwelling, but many of the themes are familiar. We see people recycling for a livelihood, most of the people we know are part of the informal economy, death and tragedy are common, everyone is overworked, and education seems to be a rarity. I am starting to believe that some of the themes are am recognizing are universal themes of poverty.

I found her treatment of the environment and death to be especially interesting. To the limited extent that I can understand it, she really captured the feeling of an impoverished area. The book did not dwell on most deaths, and seemed to move on without acknowledging their tragedy. I thought this felt like a statement about how the world cares about these deaths, and provoked the deeper questions about the value of a human life. By reading this book, you might gain a little exposure to the type of struggle too many face on a daily basis.

A single fear

My only point of concern in recommending this book is that it could make you more cynical. Corruption and embezzlement of donations stuck out in my mind on several occasions. I also fear that these very real descriptions of poverty and life in poverty would have been unbelievable to me before this experience.

Poignant quotes:

Becoming a success in the great, rigged market of the overcity required less effort and intelligence than getting by, day to day, in the slums (Pg 228 Loc 3255).
Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating (Pg219 Loc 3136).