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
1.
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

The Hours

“But there are still the hours, aren’t there? One and then another, and you get through that one and then, my god, there’s another.”
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

A year ago my wonderful Dancing English Teacher showed me a short video of The Hours. For such a short video it left a huge impact on me. You can immediately sense that something is off. Why is Laura’s husband buying flowers for her on his birthday and why does she look so haunted… I watched the movie for my US & Canada course and it was amazing and it was also one of the first book based movie adaptations I have seen before reading the book itself. Finding time and reading the book took a bit longer, I finally managed to read it earlier this year.

“There is a beauty in the world, though it’s harsher than we expect it to be.”
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

The Hours tells the story of three women in three different timelines: Virginia Woolf who is beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway in 1923; Clarissa Vaughan, a beloved friend of an acclaimed poet dying from AIDS and Laura Brown, in a 1949 Los Angeles suburb, who slowly begins to feel the constraints of her “perfect” housewife life. At first, you think all these women have in common is Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf who has written it, Laura Brown who reads it and Clarissa who is called Mrs Dalloway by her poet friend. But it goes deeper than that.

“Beauty is a whore, I like money better.”
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…”
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

By the end of the novel, all these three stories and timelines are weaved together in a beautiful manner. Nothing about this book is expected. The Hours is SO well-written and complex, I first thought that this complexity would make it hard for me to concentrate on reading, however it read very easily. The Hours is very deeply moving, I absolutely adored this novel.

5/5 stars.

How To Read The Hours:
1.
You can read the excerpt HERE.
2.
I think this is kind of a depressing thoughtful book so if you don’t like those, you perhaps won’t understand this.
3.
I think if you are interested about Virginia Woolf in general, you should read this. It’s a tribute to her and ‘The Hours’ was also the working title of Woolf’s 1920s classic Mrs Dalloway. This novel is also written in a similar stream-of-consciousness style, though I think it was much easier to read this than Mrs Dalloway.
4.
You’ll love this if you like reading beautiful prose and if you like deeper prose.
5.
If you liked the book, pretty please watch the movie adaptation. It’s just stunning. Meryl Streep (😂😂😂!), Nicole Kidman & Julianne Moore are just fantastic in their roles.

“What does it mean to regret when you have no choice? It’s what you can bear. And there it is… It was death. I chose life.”
― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

Have you read The Hours or other books by Michael Cunningham? What about Mrs Dalloway? Would you like to?

                                            Buy The Hours: A Novel on Amazon