Slumbai

photoIt’s a book that received rave reviews. Known to be one of the top nonfiction reads for 2012 and winner of the National Book Award, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers details the lives of a few Indian families living in Annawandi, a slum next to the Mumbai airport.

Many of the boys scavenge for trash that they can sell or recycle for money. Some of the families have daughters they are pushing to get an education and hopefully, a marriage that raises them to a better class status. While there are so many characters and so many situations, the story mostly centers on a narrative arc where a suicide occurs and the question arises whether another family pushed the woman to do it.

It’s everything all the reviewers and awards represent. It is an amazing glimpse into families living near disease-ridden lakes but also within sight of the polished luxury Mumbai hotels. Those buildings give them hope to achieve more.

What also amazed me was how the author was not a part of the story at all. She had interviewed and gathered information about these families for 4 years. In those 4 years, some heartbreaking deaths happen, and yet she keeps herself as an observant narrator.

I myself have traveled to India several times now, since my relatives still live there. Though I have never been to Mumbai, I have seen the slums around Delhi. There were many times where I wanted to walk into those small concrete rooms with the tarp draped over the ceiling and a small television glowing in the corner. I wanted to know more about their lives and how they had hope that something would change. I was also scared they would want things from me hoping that I could save them. I’m curious to know more about Boo’s experience visiting the slums on a regular basis and how the locals treated her. In any case, her book is a powerful account of life for a few slum-dwellers looking for something better.

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