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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking Bravery In Staying Her Self-Assigned Course Through Tough Times, 9 Feb 2012
This review is from: behind the beautiful forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Hardcover)
"Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is the first book from Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Katherine Boo, a staff writer at "The New Yorker," and former reporter and editor at "The Washington Post." It is a narrative nonfiction that tells the story of several families that live in Annawadi, a small makeshift slum located between the fancy new airport and luxury hotels, and a public toilet and sewage lagoon, in Mumbai (formerly, and better-known as Bombay), a dynamic and fast-growing Indian city.

It is based upon three years of onsite reporting, the author says. "From the day in November 2007 that I wandered into Annawadi until March 2011 when I completed my recording, I documented the experiences of residents with written notes, video recordings, audiotapes and photographs. Several children of the slum, having mastered my Flip video camera, also documented events recounted in this book. I also used more than 3,000 public records, many of them obtained after years of petitioning government agencies under the landmark Right to Information Act."

As India starts to prosper, and wealthier Indians begin to return home from their diaspora around the world, further deepening the gulch of inequality between the city's rich and poor, residents of Annawadi are hopeful. Abdul, a hard-working Muslim teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of high intelligence, deeply scarred from a childhood in rural poverty, believes she has found another route to the middle class: political corruption. She hopes that, with a little man-made luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter Manju, Annawadi's "most-everything girl"will soon become its first female college graduate. Even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, Sunil, and Sonu, teenaged scrap-metal thieves and garbage scavengers, who are addicted to "Erase-X," the Indian equivalent of "White-Out," of which middle-class office workers generally threw out the little bottles before they were finished. hopefully believed themselves getting closer to what they called "the full enjoy."

Then things take a turn for the worse. Abdul and his family are falsely accused of a shocking crime, and find themselves besieged by corrupt government officials at every turn. A global recession impinges on the economy of the city, until recently one of the fastest growing, most wealth-producing in the world. And three Pakistani terrorists attack the city at its heart, killing more than 100 victims, as the corrupt police stay well out of their way. Life in Annawadi gets tougher: some of its residents lose hope.

The book is beautifully written; although its subject matter is sometimes grim, Boo attacks it with intelligence, wit and humor. It's also surprisingly fast-paced, as it shows us the imagination, enterprise and courage of these slum dwellers. Boo's writing and reporting, in addition to winning a Pulitzer, has won a MacArthur "Genius" grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. She has married an Indian, and, for the past decade, divided her time between the United States and India. She has built her career on examining the lives of the world's disadvantaged communities. The MacArthur Foundation said, "[Boo's] extended profiles of individuals struggling at the invisible margins of society open a powerful journalistic window into the obstacles faced by many." Personally, I am somewhat stunned at the authors breathtaking bravery: I don't know how she could have continued in this enterprise, at times when such depressing episodes were occurring. My hat's off to her.
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