Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Thoughts - Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
published 2/13/12
256 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter — Annawadi's "most-everything girl" — will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call "the full enjoy."

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

My thoughts -

In my continuing goal to read books that have won/were nominated for book awards, I picked up Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, which won both a National Book Award in 2013 and a PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award. It really sounded like just the kind of nonfiction that I really enjoy, and while it certainly was a compelling read, it didn't quite blow me away.

Boo traces a period of 3 years in the slum of Annawadi, in which fortunes and lives rise and fall. Several different points of view are utilized, and the somewhat surprising breadth of quality of life is displayed. There were a few times I felt like I wasn't really sure how much time had elapsed between events - Boo states in her author's note that she reported for 3-4 years, but in the narrative it seems that more time passes. I just didn't quite feel like I had a central, grounding point to keep myself straight in the story.

There were many things that surprised me about this story, and I feel like I learned a lot about a way of life that is completely a totally unimaginable to me. I was astonished by the responsibility that the children would take upon themselves for the survival of their families. I think the one thing I didn't feel that I expected was a sense of hope - just based on the events of the book, I can't imagine how the people who live in a place like Annawadi can ever, under their own strength, make a new life for themselves, and that was a hard thing to ponder.

I certainly think this is an interesting and informative piece of writing, but it didn't quite strike me as favorably as it seems to have many other readers. If you are interested in India, or in the lives of people working to better their lives, you will most likely fall in love with this book.

Finished - 9/8/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for startling, eye-opening situations
My rating - 6/10


bermudaonion said...

I thought this sounded like a book I would like so I'm disappointed to see it didn't live up to it's promise.

Aarti said...

I think this is one of those books that is IMPORTANT to read but not really ENJOYABLE. I am glad I read it, but it didn't leave much room for hope and positive thinking, did it?