Friday, December 30, 2011
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, takes place in Annawadi, a slum cobbled together and located across the road from an international airport and a luxury hotel. Here, in Boo's narrative nonfictional account, we meet people who must struggle for basic sustenance, live the hardest of lives, but yet are hopeful of better things in the future.
As this story unfolds, we get to know several characters and learn of their aspirations. Most of them are very hard-working and goal-oriented, performing the kind of work most of us couldn't imagine. For instance, there are many teenaged boys in Annawadi who are scavengers, collecting and sometimes selling trash that can be recycled. One of the boys we will follow is Abdul, who is a step higher than a scavenger--he appraises, sorts, and buys the trash the scavengers bring in, so he can turn around and sell the items to a recycling plant. Abdul is actually able to support his family doing this way.
Unfortunately, unforeseeable trouble lies ahead of Abdul and his family, dashing what was their most prominent dream, and this tragic, distressful subplot is a case study in judicial corruption and greed. We also follow the scavengers through their difficult and dangerous days, and watch as they form alliances and "sort-of" friendships. These boys are endearing and vulnerable, leading such precarious lives.
People die, young and old, in sad ways--those who lose hope by suicide (especially young women), some from awful infections and illness, while still others are murdered or die in accidents. Few of these deaths are deemed worthy of investigation.
How does one go on when life offers so little and the hope of anything better is so slight and can be blown away so easily? Even Asha, Annawadi's most ambitious woman, with her political dreams and the very real hope of having a college-educated daughter, has sold her soul, debased herself, and become involved in the corruption herself, but may never get out of Annawadi.
Abdul and Asha may be polar opposites in most ways, but they are both survivors. This is a fascinating study of life in a desperate place that I would recommend to absolutely anyone.