Monday, May 21, 2012

"Behind the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo

On a small patch of land owned by Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport (formerly Sahar International Airport) in Mumbai, near the luxury hotels, you'll find the slum of Annawadi. Home to a few thousand squatters and subject of Katherine Boo's first book. What is remarkable about Behind the Beautiful Forevers is how invisible Katherine Boo is from the narrative.

Ms. Boo is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, currently on staff with the New Yorker. Throughout her career she has focused her attention on poverty, education, and marginalized populations. You can read more about her background, and samples of her work in her New Yorker profile here.

Ms. Boo spent more than three years (from late 2007 to early 2011) observing life in Annawadi, building a detailed picture of Annawadi's residents. These nuanced, compelling biographies range from ambitious, ruthless Asha to Sunil, a young and desperately poor scavenger. The hours of interviews, conversations, as well as videos and official reports, provide a basis for a truly immersive reading experience.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is, in addition, a real page-turner, opening with Abdul, a teenaged entrepreneur in trash and recyclables, hiding from the police, accused of attempting to burn his neighbor alive. Despite ample evidence that it was self-immolation, Abdul's family becomes trapped in the justice system, and its corruption.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those readers who don't normally pick up nonfiction, but who enjoyed, say, Slumdog Millionaire or Precious. You may also want to check out Salaam Bombay!, Shantaram, or Born into Brothels.

~Sarah, Adult Services

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