Book Review: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity” by Katherine Boo

I was attracted to the title of the book. It sounded so good. As soon as I started listening to the audiobook, I saw the irony of the title; the story was neither beautiful nor pleasant with a happy ending. The stories was about this Muslim family living in the Annawadi slum next to the Mumbai airport as scavengers of bottles, metals and other valuables from the garbage dumps. Just when the family accumulated enough money to remodel their hut, the breadwinners of the family, father and son, were hit with a murder charge against them. They were able to defend themselves without giving in to bribing the officials and ultimately won their freedom but then they’re back to their previous poverty, starting over…

The author painted a very corrupt picture of the Indian justice system as well as the elected officials and the people running the government, e.g. bribing the prisoners to see the loved ones, bribing the witnesses, bribing the police to be let off the hook, bribing the doctor to allow one to be tried as an adolescent instead of an adult, and etc. The system feeds on itself so that the rich rigged the system to sustain their wealth (like setting up fake entities to receive government subsidies), poor continues to be poor because they are too poorly educated to secure high-wage jobs, the middle class (like police, doctors) have to be corrupt to fight off poverty.

It’s sad that people were in such despair about the future living the slums that several characters in the story killed themselves by eating rat poison and even setting fire on herself. Do they really see no way out and they simply give up – tired of fighting the status quo?

The book through several characters also touched on the inequality between the Muslims and Hindus in the Indian society, men and women, poor and rich.

After reading this book, I came to appreciate how good of lives we’re living here in U.S. There is “sufficient” amount of meritocracy built into the American system that most people believe that given sufficient effort and some luck, they can improve their lives and things will get better. Unfortunately, most of the people living in the slums of India, especially the women and minorities, do not feel the same way. Of course, I’m certain this type of things happen not only in India but also in China and other developing countries.

I enjoyed the audiobook very much as the audiobook narrator brought out the characters in mimicking the Indian accent wonderfully, like hearing the quotes from the people themselves. At the end, I was surprised to realize that the book was a non-fiction. It’s meticulously researched, written and produced (audiobook) – highly recommended.