Behind the Beautiful Forevers

“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


“Some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. Some things are so sad that only your soul can do the crying for them.”
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.” Shantaram is a 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict escapes from Pentridge Prison flees to India.  Soon, Linbaba or “Lin” arrives in Bombay. He puts his faith in local guide Prabaker and later becomes a good friend of his. Later on, Lin finds a profound inner peace and he is given a name ‘Shantaram’ – a man of peace. He also falls in love and becomes a slum doctor and also ends up in Afghanistan in the middle of war. To summarize, it’s very long book and and the plot is very rich.

“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears.”
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

I adored this book. First time reading this it seemed to me that this was a memoir rather than a novel. Of course, you soon get that not everything could have happened but as the author has said in numerous parts that some parts are true and other parts he has invented. I think this book paints a very alluring picture of Bombay (official name of Mumbai until 1995), even if it also describes for example Bombay’s crime, drugs, mafia, slums and prisons.

I have never been to India, however, I think that out of all books  I have read that have been set in India, this is definitely the most beautiful one. It made me want to pack my bag and leave immediately to India, even after all I read about Mumbai. Moreover, I just like reading longer books. I feel like I can better understand the author and the world and characters they have created. Writing style of this book is beautiful a mix of lyrical and philosophical and I think it just describes life very well. All in all, Shantaram is powerful and epic novel.

5/5 stars

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

 How- To Read Shantaram

1. If you’re looking for a novel set in India, look no further.
2. It’s very long but very worth of your time. About 936 pages… almost one thousand pages. Yay?
3. I don’t know how to explain this novel properly but I think you’ll like it if you like long books about life and death in general and if you have like books with ramblings, philosophies about life.
4. There’s a sequel called The Mountain Shadow.
5. There has been some talk for many years about turning this book into a film which would star Johnny Depp. I guess it’s now in what media industry calls a development hell or development limbo.

“The truth is a bully we all pretend to like”
― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram