Synopsis: When Katherine Boo married her husband 10 years ago, she was excited to gain a new home country in India; however, her husband warned her not to take it at face value. Having written for the Washington Post and The New Yorker about poverty in the U.S., she turned her focus to the struggles of the poor in Mumbai and the juxtaposition between the situation in the slums and the lives of the elite.
Review: The poverty faced by the people in this book is so far removed from my own experiences that I was shocked when Asha’s family takes a trip to visit relatives on the farm and they’re thought of rich. These are people who spend 18 hour days picking through garbage to find plastic water bottles and old batteries to sell. Many are stooped by starvation or riddled by tuberculosis. And they’re considered the rich relatives who have made it in the big city. It was completely mind-blowing.
Another thing that surprised me was the fighting within the community of Annawadi. The people living there looked at any situation from the perspective of how they could make it advantageous for themselves – even in cases where absolutely horrible things are happening to their neighbors. These aren’t bad people, but they have no other options.
The aspect of this book I found most disturbing was the amount of corruption. Corruption is brought up by news media in vague terms all the time when talking about developing countries, but in Behind the Beautiful Forevers you see first-hand the damage it does to the poor. While I’m sure that most of the population isn’t corrupt, it seemed like everyone these people came into contact with was trying to extort them in some way: when they had to go to the hospital you had to bribe the nurse to give care or the doctor to give the medication so desperately needed and even then it was probably expired; the police would arrest random people and then make your family pay to not send you to jail. It’s terrible! I couldn’t believe that all these stories were real.
This book made me feel about myself and the comparative richness in which I live. But what can I do with this information? Nothing. I don’t have the skills to actually make a mission trip to India a good idea, and monetary donations will most likely just end up in the wrong hands. What’s a girl to do?!
Note: Madeleine read this book last year and loved it a lot more than I did, so be sure to check out her review as well! https://thebookowls.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/behind-the-beautiful-forevers/