Behind the Beautiful Forevers

I recently finished reading “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo.

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My mom is like me (or I am like her?) in that she can’t go into a bookstore and leave empty handed which is how she ended up with this book. It’s not her typical read, but she thought it looked interesting and so she bought it. When she told me about it, I asked if I could borrow it. She brought it up when she came to visit for Mother’s Day and when I asked her how it was, she got this look on her face that said “How do I put this tactfully?” Finally, she remarked “I just kept waiting for things to get better. But they didn’t.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I began to read.

Looking back now that I’ve finished it, I better understand what my mom meant. It’s a non-fiction work that reads like a novel. Novels are supposed to resolve themselves at the end. It’s Literature 101. The protagonist faces some sort of conflict and that conflict is always neatly, if not happily, resolved by the last page.

But this isn’t a novel. It’s real life.

The book centers on the Husseins, a Muslim family living in the Hindu-dominated Annawadi slum on the outskirts of Mumbai. As I read, I found myself frequently forgetting that the people and events were not merely figments of a creative author’s imagination.  Abject poverty. Government corruption. Suicide. Revenge. A murder trial. It’s easy to slip into a fiction mindset as you read. And when you are thinking “fiction,” you expect resolution. You want a happy ending.

The book is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. That people can live in such squalor and oppression and still have hopes and dreams amazes me. I’m sure it is different if such a life is all you have ever known, but even so, I’m not sure how much hope I could sustain under such circumstances.

It is also very convicting. As I read, I couldn’t help but reevaluate all of the things that I consider essential to my happiness. All the things I use on a daily basis without giving them a second thought. I truly am blessed beyond measure.

I am not doing this book justice. I think I need to reread it to fully process it. It is certainly not a “must read,” but if you have the time and are looking for something a bit different, it is well worth it.

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1 June 2012. Bookworm.

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