Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

I suppose I should be thankful for a few hours of non-challenging reading, but it almost feels like hours wasted if not spent thrilling the tips of my brain with the stack of other books that await. Regardless, I somewhat enjoyed this quick dip into the slums outside Mumbai and the detailed picture outlined by Katherine Boo in this well-researched non-fiction account. She spent several years lurking at the edge of the sewage-choked lake, translator nearby, taping and recording the stories of the inhabitants. We follow the threads of several families, one of which has been climbing precariously out of poverty by sifting through garbage and selling for a higher price back to recyclers the garbage they purchase and sort. This family is pushed off their upward climb by a false claim by a one-legged neighbor who sets herself on fire but claims they did it. Another family is led by a woman looking to be the first woman slum lord, seeking power and facilitating corruption. We see the ragged lives of the children either killed or suiciding on rat poison, but yet also gleaming full of hope. Behind this detailed picture, we spot India flexing its 21st century muscles and trying to attain wealth of its own despite the obstacles of constant corruption and malaise.

Edited to add that yes, I have also been taking “breaks” with the graphic novels recently consumed, but those at least lacked the pretension and taking-itself-so-seriously of this book. Give me lighthearted comics any day of the week for release from high falutin’ intellectual work over puffed up pieces like this one. Especially grating was the author’s note at the end, where she reveals that she was afraid of venturing into the slums but then when she cracked her ribs tripping over an unabridged dictionary in her home, she realized she could face anything.