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What an unexpected delight! “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a tale of life in a slum shanty under the flight-path at Mumbai airport, a work of fiction but grounded in carefully researched real lives, such that it won a prize for non-fiction. I heard of it when I booked to see the play David Hare has written from the book, soon to be performed at the National Theatre.
The action takes place in a shanty originally started by Tamil workers brought to Mumbai as cheap construction workers for the burgeoning Mumbai airport. The desperate poverty is regarded as demeaning India’s image to the businesspeople flying into its financial capital, so it’s entrance is hidden behind a large hoarding, advertising ceramic tiles that will “stay beautiful forever.” The optimism and entrepreneurial spirit of the people wrestles with powerful currents of change – tensions between Moslem and Hindu, the continuing legacies of the caste system and of the British Raj, the effects of boom and bust. And even terrorism. The residents are under constant threat of eviction from their illegal slums, from violence and robbery from other slum-dwellers and from the corruption of politicians, police and the legal system. But their optimism still shines through, so the book is not just an education, but unexpectedly uplifting. Thoroughly recommended.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Excellent book overall! Very well read and very well written, the narrator makes the characters come alive and has got a very engaging voice!
Where does Behind the Beautiful Forevers rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Highly rated but have listened to many exceptional books
What did you like best about this story?
Understanding what survival means in a Mumbai slum AND Katherine Boo's note at the end that contextualises so much.
Which character – as performed by Sunil Malhotra – was your favorite?
Abdul - who kept wanting a life that meant more
My first listen of Behind the Beautiful Forevers was from my local library. Once I'd read it, I read it through a second time immediately & then I bought my own copy here. Although I will never forget this story it is so compelling & so beautifully told I know I will read it many more times.
I hadn't read the description of this book when I first picked it up - I completed the book & it was only when I got to the epilogue that I discovered it was non-fiction. The narrative reads like a beautiful fiction but the story is true. The words of the characters are those told to the author during the 6 months she spent in the Indian slum where the story is set, or they are what she herself witnessed.
So now the authenticity I felt from the story is explained. It feels authentic because it is authentic.
The story gives insight into lives that people living in western cultures generally will not encounter. It is the story of deep poverty, deeper poverty & deepest poverty. And there are few ways to get out of the slum. The people in the story all want to improve their lives, but each has a different belief in how to do so. Hard work? Education? Corruption seems the surest method & it is not necessarily about having the most power - just about having more than the next person, and then being ruthless about using it.
While the stories of the people in this book are true, it is a book you will enjoy for the story itself and the way it has been told. Katherine Boo has deliberately chosen people who would not necessarily have shared their story with anyone else and therein lies the book's real gift.
This is another book that has gone to the top of my all time favourites.