I was recently listening to my local NPR station on the way to work when I heard that Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity had just been awarded the 2012 National Book Award for Best Nonfiction. I read this book earlier in the year and thought it would make a good selection for my blog’s library!
Over the last few years, I’ve really been enjoying nonfiction, especially memoirs (if it’s written by a chef or takes place in Paris, I’m sold). I can’t remember if this book was recommended to me or if I just read a review that prompted me to pick it up, but it’s the true story of a very poor squatter settlement in Mumbai and the lives of the people who live there. The main character is a sympathetic young man who supports his family by collecting and sorting garbage that richer people throw away. He is falsely accused of a terrible crime, and through this event and dozens of others, Boo explores themes of injustice, inequality, religion, politics, economics, democracy, jealousy and courage.
I think we’re really lucky to have people like Boo to share realities with us that might otherwise remain unknown. This book feels like it’s taking place in a whole different world, but the truth is, she’s reporting about things going on today, in our world. This week is Thanksgiving, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been thinking about pie for the last few days. But it’s also time to give thanks for what we have, to be grateful, and to try in even the smallest ways to help others whenever we can. As our world grows smaller, and we all become more connected, I think it’s important to be aware, to share and to act whenever possible. Behind the Beautiful Forevers isn’t a light read, but it seems to me that if the author gave years of her life to follow the people of Mumbai and write this book, we can certainly give up a few hours to read it.
On that heavier-than-intended note, Happy Thanksgiving! Even though I’ll be far from home, I’m very lucky to have a day full of cooking and eating planned with family and friends. Plus four days off…could my smile be any bigger?!