Behind the Beautiful Forevers Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.
I had never heard of this book before my daughter gave it to me for Christmas. However the title was interesting to say the least. How did a Beautiful Forevers relate to life in a Mumbai slum?
Turns out the Beautiful Forever is a hugh billboard advertising Beautiful Forever Tile hiding the slum from the jet-setters at the international airport. The title does provide a sense of irony to the book.
For the most part the story takes place in the slum situated beside a large cesspool by the Mumbai International Airport. Most of the slum (Annawadi) inhabitants depended on the airport for their livelihood – from reselling trash to stealing anything that was not bolted down and sometimes even bolted down items, to part time subsistence paying jobs for which they were often times stiffed.
The book’s main character is Abdul, the oldest son of a minority Muslim family in a mostly Hindu slum, who provides the income for the family by buying and reselling trash. As an aside most of the fathers in the book either suffer from tuberculous, drink too much, or otherwise are not the family provider.
The main plot is the family’s trial and tribulations after their one-legged neighbor self-immolates herself because of an argument she had with their family. Abdul, his father, and his sister are charged with first setting her ablaze and later with just driving her to attempt suicide.
The book is a fast read and does not become boring. I recommend it.
The author spent 4 years of her life interviewing and chronicling the lives of the people of the Annawadi slum. Assuming their lives are similar to the characters in the novel I am indeed blessed I live in the USA, have a great job, and a decent family.