Sunday, April 12, 2015

Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo

I recently finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - a powerful and thought-provoking, even thought-wrenching, non-fiction book by Katherine Boo. The story centers around people living in Annawadi, an undercity (slum) located next to Mumbai Airport in India.

For the people of Annawadi hunger is constant, disease in rampant, vermin is vicious, cleanliness is unknown, violence is an everyday event and corruption is rampant. People with injuries are often simply left to die in the weeds. Suicide from self-immolation or eating rat poison is common. Life in Annawadi is, simply put, horrid.

What makes the book so powerful, however, isn't its accurate description of poverty, many books do that well, it is that Boo simply tells what happened without any political agenda. No doubt her background as a reporter (this is her first book) had a great deal to do with this. Boo describes violence by the police all the way down to the poorest of the poor. Corruption is not just the purview of the government, it happens at all levels. The poor are no more or less ethical than the rich. Boo reports, she doesn't blame. In many ways the book's impact on me is similar to Chinua Achebe's great novel Things Fall Apart which I read may years, decades in fact, ago and have never forgotten. Morality is truly a rare thing.

I fully admit that what has happened to me in my divorce has made me see things in a new and possibly skewed light but while reading the absolutely tragic lives of the residents of Annawadi, I could not help but notice that no one, absolutely no one, was forced to work for anyone else. And certainly not until they died. People starved, they were beat up, murdered, wrongly imprisoned, and died because they did not receive proper, or any, medical care. Corruption was rampant. But no one was a slave. Even among the poorest of the poor, that bane has been eliminated. At least in Annawadi. Here in Minnesota it unfortunately still exists. I am not sure if that is self-pitying or astute observation. Or both.  

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