Behind the Beautiful Forevers/Katherine Boo: Reflections

Sunday, August 3, 2014

With Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo does more than merely bear witness in Annawadi, the slum that grew up in the shadows of the Mumbai airport and features a sewage lake, horses painted to mimic zebras, and every possible form of corruption.

She does more than sit with the trash pickers, the schemers, the envious, the hungry, the souls who conclude that death is the only way out.

She tells a story. She involves her readers in the intimate dramas of an open-wound place. She compels us to turn the pages to find out what will happen to the prostituting wife with half a leg, the boy who is quick to calculate the value of bottle caps, the man with the bad heart valve, the "best" girl who hopes to sell insurance some day, the "respectable" rising politician who sleeps with whomever will help her further rise, the police who invent new ways to crush crushed souls.

She engages us, and because she does, she leaves us with a story we won't forget. Like Elizabeth Kolbert, another extraordinary New Yorker writer, Boo takes her time to discover for us the unvarnished facts, the pressing needs, the realities of things we might not want to think about.

But even if we don't think about them, they are brutally real. They are.

A passage:

What was unfolding in Mumbai was unfolding elsewhere, too. In the age of global market capitalism, hopes and grievances were narrowly conceived, which blunted a sense of common predicament. Poor people didn't unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for gains as slender as they were provisional. And this undercity strife created only the faintest ripple in the fabric of the society at large. The gates of the rich, occasionally rattled, remained unbreached. The politicians held forth on the middle class. The poor took down one another, and the world's great, unequal cities soldiered on in relative peace.
Like the photos featured in this earlier blog post, the picture above is not Mumbai; I've never been to India. It is Juarez, another dry and needing place on this earth.


Serena said...

wow...this sounds so compelling

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