Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, shines a beacon of light on an otherwise ignored, under city slum in India. In this makeshift slum, the inhabitants' homes are always in danger of being razed to the ground by Mumbai officials.

Boo focuses upon Abdul Husain and his family, a Muslim family who barely scratch out a living. The family's business is garbage-picking. They have painstakingly risen a little in status and they are Muslim, which makes them vulnerable.

Jealous of them, a neighbor starts a fight that leads to disastrous consequences. In Boo's words it causes Abdul's life to implode. Despite the adverse living conditions, however, the slum dwellers do their best to enjoy themselves and lead good lives.

Boo has written about the cycle of poverty in U.S. cities but here she becomes philosophical. Boo searches for the "infrastructure of opportunity" in Annawadi and finds few opportunities.

One wonders, she argues, how anyone can be moral in these circumstances. In one of the most poignant analogies, Abdul realizes he can't be "ice" (hopeful and untarnished): "For some time I tried to keep the ice inside me from melting...But now I'm just becoming dirty water, like everyone else."

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, winner of the National Book Award, is both informative and heart-breaking.