Each month, I share a recent travel book I have read. Many books in my queue focus on specific places because they offer a framework understanding of a country or culture I hope to visit. This month’s nonfiction book gives a deeper understanding of a country I hope to return to again: India.
Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a sad read; I emphasize that up front because it is a bit depressing really. Boo is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who moved to India with her husband. While living in Mumbai, she documented and followed the lives of several families within one particular slum in the city, the Annawadi slum. Her story weaves together the lives of these people in a way that reads as a novel.
Her journalistic background lends her distance and objectivity in the writing—as she documented their situation (and often their plight) over the years, she observed. She wrote from that objectivity, and the clarity of the writing shows she tried to wipe her own ego and emotions from the narrative. The book is not about fixing them or the situation, it is about their truth. The result is an unvarnished look at life in the one of the poorest regions of the world.
The film Slum Dog Millionaire was many people’s first introduction into what life is like for those living in a slum, and that was Hollywood’s version. The grim details of the book weigh at points as you are always aware that these events are true. The injustices happened to real people, as did their successes.
There were times I left the book untouched on my Kindle for days because it was an emotionally difficult read. But it’s valuable for that very reason. Great literature challenges you to look at your preconceptions of the world and widen your thinking. Boo’s book does just that. It takes a topic that is glossed over in mainstream travel narrative and she adds a very real element to the struggles the world’s poorest people face.
What could bring the book down though, ultimately brings the redemption. Though there is great struggle and heartache for the families chronicled, each chapter reinforces the strength and resiliency of the human spirit … to an extent. It also just ends. In fiction, the characters win in some way, they overcome the injustice of the world and come out changed, better. Boo finishes the story arc for each character, for the primary challenge they faced throughout the book, but then it ends without an epilogue and a neat way to wrap it up.
This is a serious book, and one of the few nonfiction books I have read about the subcontinent that gives such an honest window into the culture, people, and hurdles faced when extreme wealth and extreme poverty battle within a single country, a single city, and for the land of a single slum.
If you’re keen to read more, you can find the book on Amazon.
I offered a free copy of Behind the Beautiful Forevers to newsletter subscribers and readers.
Bonus entry question:
If you want to perhaps share why India interests you, it makes the comments more fun to read!
That’s it, no other obstacles to jump through, though if you’re keen to share this post or go like the ALA Facebook page I wouldn’t stop you. :)
Read my past travel book reviews, or browse my selection of the best books about countries around the world. And read my reviews policy and disclaimer. Although I occasionally allow a company or author to host a giveaway, I sponsored this month myself.:)