Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s a bit delayed, but the BBC recently ran an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo, who has released a book entitled ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.’ To complete this book, Boo spent three years in the Mumbai slum of Annawadi, and as the BBC notes, “[her book] reads like a novel, but the characters are real.”

Listening to the interview, one can witness the poetic and insightful realism that Katherine Boo is so acclaimed for. As she expresses the intent of ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers,’ she insists that she was “not looking to write about the poorest and abject, …not looking to make you feel sorry for people. [She wanted] readers to have a connection more blooded and complex than pity or revulsion.” And in this, Boo succeeds. Pity, revulsion and even the patronizing admiration that we so often provide to the poor are all subsided in this book as human biographies emerge–with all of the complexity that they deserve.

That being said, and as impressive as three years in a slum may be to many of us in the West, we cannot assume that such an amount of time would permit anyone (particularly someone who admittedly stood out and apart in Annawadi) to tell a story from the citizens’ perspective. But that’s not all you should be looking for here. Boo is a journalist–an American journalist–and she notes that which strikes her as notable, honest, or worthy of revelation. As will always be the case, she carries biases. But that being said, Boo is a rare breed who skillfully sidesteps biases where possible and beautifully conveys perspectives that we may never have otherwise. Take it at that, and this book will be a fascinating read. To play on my previous post, it will ‘shake the dust.’

I recommend both the book and the interview.

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