Behind the Beautiful Forevers
By Katherine Boo
For almost four years Katherine Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff writer at The New Yorker, immersed herself in a slum called Annawadi along the Airport Road in Mumbai, one of India’s giant cities formerly known as Bombay, to create a non-fiction narrative tour-de-force that echoes Dickens, Dostoevsky and even Tom Wolf in its fluency, impact and pace.
The title is taken from bright-yellow ads promoting “beautiful forever” Italianate ceramic tiles that are prominently painted on a concrete wall that shields the slum from view. The airport owns the land and could evict these squatters any time. Every night they can see the good life in the twinkling lights of the luxury hotels overlooking their makeshift settlement as they trudge through the mud to their homes: 3,000 people crammed into 335 huts on half an acre surrounding a sewage pond.
It’s a place where garbage pickers are envied for their upward mobility, where a wad of aluminum foil can mean the difference between eating and going hungry, where the powerless fight the powerless, and a guy can feel good about being beaten by the police when he knows he actually did the crime he’s accused of.
Amazingly, this book—Boo’s first—is a celebration of the human spirit. And once you commit to it, you can’t put it down because you’re hoping against hope that somebody gets lucky. And when they do, it’s such a great relief—for you, because you’ve got it so easy compared to them.