Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review || Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Can it be true? The Column isn't dead?! I assure you I was beginning to worry the same thing. No, but really, I'm sorry for the terrible lack of activity over the past few months. Second semester has kicked my butt and I've had more work than I know what to do with. Today I was thinking about what I could do to keep The Column running, and I decided that I could incorporate some of my school work into my blogging! What an idea! For my Honors World Politics class we read a book a week and then right a reflective piece 5-8 pages long, give or take. This past week we read Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The book was fantastic and I thought I'd write a little bit about it as a blog post.

The book is set in an Indian slum in Mumbai called Annawadi. The story follows the lives of real people living in Annawadi. I don't want to give anything away, so I'm going to take more of a conceptual look at the piece. The story details a life that none of us could really imagine; a life in which the police only care about extortion, doctors charge fees in the free public health system, education is nothing short of a complete joke, and even your neighbors are in a constant struggle to get more than you do. The book really poses the question of why this extreme poverty exists in such an economically booming country. In our class, we looked at this question through the lens of conceptual justice, and after some thinking, I decided that Boo was trying to point out that a lack of justice in all dimensions was causing the perpetuation of slum life within India. In addition, Annawadians are constantly faces with unjust legal systems and unreal corruption, forcing them to fight among each other to make "ends meet." Where "ends meet" means not dying of lung disease or of sewage lake contamination, it is clear why a hostile environment is born. In a nation where citizens practically breath and eat corruption, how could they possibly form any kind of cohesive revolt? As a friend of mine, Katie Booth, stated, "Revolution would be a luxury for the people in the slums." When you don't have time to feed yourself or your children (sometimes this issue is only alleviated when your child commits suicide via rat poison or is murdered by airport security), how could anyone invest any energy into organizing a mass revolt to overturn deep seeded structural corruption?

Kayla O'Neill's Letter to The Column cites Boo's piece as a great way to attain more information on the subject. Also, to address her letter, there have been recent developments in the rape case that she wrote about. The man accused of being the ring leader (whether he is/was or not is probably something that the Indian justice system could never accurately determine) has committed suicide. This is not an anomaly. Characters in Boo's book found the same escape from injustice. You can find more information on this recent development here. Times of India also reports on the incident here. I fully suggest reading the piece and it can be found on Ebay for a pretty reasonable price.You can learn more about Katherine Boo by following this link which has plenty of fun information on the book.

I've done my best to briefly give an impression on the book without giving anything away. I was told by multiple friends to check the book out and was thoroughly pleased that it wound up on my class' reading list. Eventually I will be posting my journal on this book on the blog, but I want to give it plenty of time before I do so (well I'll probably post it, we'll see). I will probably be posting pretty regular book reviews of pieces I found noteworthy. I know it's not the most interesting stuff in the world for my followers, but at least it's something. A compromise between school work and The Column.

On a closing note, I think it is very worth mentioning one of the most powerful aspects of Boo's work. It manages to capture the spirit of ambition, a feeling that all people can relate to. It is a human element. Striving to make the best of your life and the lives of your loved ones is something that all people from all walks of life can at least begin to understand. Her writing style allows us to connect to a world that typically seems far removed; a world that is untouchable. Behind the Beautiful Forevers forges a relationship between Western readers and the slum dwellers of Annawadi.

"[Character name here] thought that he, too, had a life. A bad life, certainly - the kind that could be ended as [*****]'s had been and then forgotten, because it made no difference to the people who lived in the overcity. But something he'd come to realize on the roof, leaning out, thinking about what would happen if he leaned too far, was that a boy's life could still matter to himself" (Boo 199).