Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Club: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

I finished this book more than three weeks ago, but I've been avoiding writing the review ever since because it was just so awful. I've scheduled the post three or four times and just never gotten it pulled together. Today I am trying to bang it out while I watch The Santa Clause on the couch at my parent's house. 

Let's see... it took me more than three months to finish Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. That's how terrible I thought it was. To be fair, this is the book I happened to be reading (for my office book club) when my morning sickness kicked into high gear, and not being able to read on the bus (or in the evenings when I was passed out cold) definitely slowed down my reading. But I doubt even being vomit-free would have helped.

This (award winning?) book tells the the story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India begins to prosper, the slum residents are filled with hope. Abdul is an enterprising teenager who recycles garbage that richer people throw away. Middle-aged Asha has identified a shadier route to the middle class. And her beautiful daughter might become the slum's first female college graduate. Even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams.

But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. According to, anyway.

I found this book ridiculously hard to follow. The story jumps around from family to family, and unfortunately many of the characters have similar, if not the same, names. In addition, I thought the author portrayed them with an abrupt, detached frankness that didn't help me connect or identify with the characters at all. She makes sweeping generalizations about their thoughts and feelings which I didn't necessarily buy into. 

Of course a true story of people living illegally in a sprawling slum on the grounds of the Mumbai airport is a devastating story of human suffering, and a situation hard to even imagine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is based on years of reporting and research into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and based on that alone I was really excited to read it. My anticipation was not rewarded. I am not a quitter when it comes to books, so I slogged through this one like high school AP English assigned reading.

But if I were you, I'd definitely skip it.
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  1. Although it doesn't look like a book I'd pick up-- I'll be sure to pass it by!

  2. I don't quit on books either. I always try to finish them in the hopes that they'll get better! Kudos to you for finishing a book you didn't like...and for writing an honest review! We're bloggers! We're supposed to share our opinions...good or bad! :)


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