I enjoy well-written non-fiction that combines information about a people or place or industry and reads almost like fiction. As I began Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, I was drawn in, because that’s exactly what Katherine Boo did. She took these people who live in one of the slums of India (right behind the airport) and gave a voice to their story.
I am fascinated by the country and people of India, which is what drew me to this book. The people who show up in this “story” are one reason that I so admire this culture. In spite of abject poverty, they have hope and optimism, trying to make something of themselves by stealing and sorting garbage or by pursuing an education.
The “bad politics” of the corrupt government caused me to feel physical frustration at the unfairness of it all, and yet Katherine Boo writes with humor and a light touch that helps keep it from becoming too dark or depressing.
So — good writing, interesting insight into a culture I knew little about BUT —
The BUT comes because I wasn’t invested or intrigued enough to finish it for many many months. I was drawn in, interested, charmed by the excellent writing, but then I stalled about 2/3 of the way through. It was one of those books that got tucked away and forgotten. I didn’t pick it up again until it made the news with its National Book Award win.
This isn’t a non-recommendation. I understand why Behind the Beautiful Forevers won, and I’m glad I read it. Others interested in India or great narrative nonfiction writing will likely enjoy it. I imagine it will be a popular book gift this season.
**Elizabeth reviewed The Round House earlier this year, which won best fiction. Since she gave it 5 stars, I think she is in full agreement.