Online book clubber Claudine Bakker of Gettysburg in the United States - yes, our online book club has members all over the world - has just finished reading a book that has haunted her ever since.
Here is her review in her own words:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction account of life, death and hope in the slums of Mumbai written by Katherine Boo, an award-winning American journalist who mostly writes about the poor and disadvantaged in America. Katherine Boo spent three years in the Annawadi slums of Mumbai."I quickly grew impatient with poignant snapshots of Indian squalour: the ribby children with flies in their eyes and other emblems of abjectness that one can't help but see within five minutes of walking into a slum. For me...the more important line of inquiry is something that takes longer to discern. What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society? Whose capabilities are given wing by the market and a government's economic and social policy?"
The central characters in this book are a family of Muslim scavengers in the Annawadi slum, the Husains. Annawadians live in constant fear of having their unsightly little slum in the shadow of Bombay's new airport demolished. Young Abdul Husain works in the garbage recycling businessTheir dreams are only realised as long as they coincide with the goodwill of the powerful
and the story details the plight and dangerous scavenging of Husain and his friends.
Abdul's impetuous mother Zehrunnisa gets into a fight with the lame Fatima, a neighbouring prostitute, who ends up killing herself. This entangles the Husains in the judicial system, out of which, according to the author, there is little hope of coming out in one piece. India's judicial system is corrupt and personifies injustice... a sad state of affairs for a country desiring to join the economic superpowers.
While some slum dwellers may achieve moderately peaceful lifestyles if they are lucky, their lives appear superfluous overall while their dreams are only realised as long as they coincide with the goodwill of the powerful who have arbitrary and overwhelming control over them. It was hard to finish this powerful book as it deeply saddened me to know that there that many people who suffer daily on this Earth. I rate this book 4 out of a possible 5 stars.