Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Katherine Boo, BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE IN A MUMBAI UNDERCITY
My pal Jody gave me this one, a compelling, well-written non-fiction about the Annawadi slum next to the slick and shiny Mumbai International Airport. Boo, a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist out of Washington D.C., spent three years following a group of people as they sift garbage, sell garbage, and have it stolen from them; are accused (falsely) of burning a neighbor and go to trial (where the stenographer doesn't understand most of what they're saying); run a school, survive a monsoon, and try to figure out who they need to pay off and who they don't (which I found completely bewildering). The title comes from a wall that divides the airport from the slum; it advertises Italianate floor tiles, with a corporate slogan running the length of the wall: Beautiful Forever Beautiful Forever. But the "divide" of Beautiful and Ugly isn't as rigid as the wall. Boo offers a nuanced picture, beyond the standard heart-rending one; she describes people who are entrepreneurial, wary, observant, aspiring, and capable, as well as corrupt and deceitful and desperate. The explanation of what happens to all the donations and efforts of well-intentioned human rights groups is pretty discouraging, however.