This month we are reading Behind the Beautful Forevers by Katherine Boo. You can participate in book club by leaving comments after any book club post, or by meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, California. Our next meeting will be on September 24, 2016 at 10:30AM.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-ficiton work that reads like a novel. Katherine Boo, with the aid of translators, spent about three years getting to know the residents of Annawadi, a slum on the edge of Mumbai, India. This review by Amit Chaudhuri gives an Indian perspective on the book (Boo is an American who married an Indian).
In this interview at npr, Boo talks about life in the slum as compared to the village, what it was like being a blonde American in the slum, and the lives of women. I found this especially interesting:
“Often in journalism, stories about the poor began with a reporter going to an NGO and saying, ‘Tell me about the good work you’re doing, and let me follow you, and maybe if you could just pick out some real success stories, I’ll write about them.’ I think that those kind of stories do an injustice to the enormous amount of creative and enterprising problem-solving that low-income people do for themselves, that most of the ways that people get out of poverty in the United States, in India and anywhere else I’ve ever been is through their own imaginations and their own fortitude.”
In a Q&A on her wepage, Boo goes into a lot of detail about why she chose the topic she chose, her writing process, and how she wanted readers to see the people as more than objects of pity:
When I talk to friends about Annawadi experiences that haunt me, they’ll sometimes ask, Why didn’t you write about that? But I was intent that this book not be some dolorous registry of the most terrible things that had ever happened at Annawadi. A book like that wouldn’t have done justice to what Annawadi felt like, day to day. Annawadi life was also about flagpole ring-toss and tell-all sessions among teenaged girls at the public toilet and parents comforting and delighting in their children. It was Sunil and Sonu the Blinky Boy applying their rich imaginations to gathering trash and figuring out their place in the world.
Sunil and Sonu have tough, tough lives but if a reader comes away from this book thinking of them only as pathetic socioeconomic specimens I’ll have failed as a writer. They’re cool, interesting kids, and I want the reader to sense that, too. Because we can talk all we want about how corruption or indifference robs people of opportunity–of the promise our societies squander–but if we don’t really grasp the intelligences of those who are being denied, we’re not going to grasp the potential that’s being lost.
The video below has interviews with Katherine Boo and with Meera Syal, an actress in the National Theater’s stage adaptation of the book. It also has footage of Annawadi and it’s residents.