“What you don’t want is always going to be with you
What you want is never going to be with you
Where you don’t want to go, you have to go
And the moment you think you’re going to live more, you’re going to die”
― Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a non-fiction book written by  Katherine Boo in 2012.  The book describes life in Annawadi slum close to Mumbai airport. This was a really difficult read for me because human suffering is so terrifying. Imagine not just picking garbage to make a living but also being constantly hungry or suffering of tuberculosis or some other serious epidemic.

“Being terrorized by living people seemed to have diminished his fear of the dead”
― Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

This book reads like a novel and it is so troublesome to think that this is not fiction. You don’t want to believe the things in this book. Of course, I know there are plenty of slums in the world and I’ve watched many documentaries, however it’s always a bit more real, a bit more personal with books like this. Everyone has their own story and we all should hear them, that is the approach Boo uses in her book.

“He wanted to be better than what he was made of. In Mumbai’s dirty water, he wanted to be ice…He wanted to be recognized as better than the dirty water in which he lived. He wanted a verdict of ice.”
― Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

There’s a lot of life, there’s a lot of death and then there’s a lot of hope. People want to break out from slum life. Book tells a story of Abdul who provides for his family by picking up garbage,  Manju who wants to graduate from college, her “slumlord” mother Asha and so many other people. I guess what shocked me the most beside the poverty was the level of corruption. Corrupt police officers and politicians don’t really surprise me but doctors? Hospitals? It’s a logical path but you’d think Hippocratic Oath has some significance. Indian politics also surprised me… people in Annawadi are not considered as poor officially. Seriously. I don’t even want to know what is considered under poverty line in India…

What I liked the most about this book were the thoughts I think. We all think in an unique way and also different life circumstances make us think differently about life. Like the quote I picked before previous paragraph about water and ice, such a beautiful and sad thought. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a good, very touching and informative read, however I didn’t like the way this book almost had a plot. I felt like the  narrative style would have worked better if there would have been just one character but now it seemed a bit like all over the place somehow. Then, I got the humanity point of view  but I really did not get the full picture almost like the story was left unfinished which shouldn’t happen with nonfiction.
 3,5/5 stars

“It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what  people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.”― Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

How-To Read Behind the Beautiful Forevers
I think it’s a wonderful book to understand slums in India and the lives of these people. And the effect it has on society. And this book will make you value how good off you are in life.
2. Writing style is different, interpretative, something called narrative nonfiction. It’s a very serious book but writing style is a lighter one. I feel mixed about this book and I think that caused it.
3. Quite a short of a book, just under 300 pages, although books like this are never short.

What do you think?

Picture credit: Pipe Play 2 by Meena Kadri