Who says a good book cannot inspire social justice for the poor?
A few months ago I read Katherine Boo’s book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and it continues to come to mind.
The book is about a slum called Annawadi in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) India, a city which, because of the quality of the potential of the work force, is the home to many multinational corporate branches and where some large call centers are located. I just found good essays about the book on Newsweek and also on Salon; here are my thoughts.
The book is particularly metaphoric — the title tells a story behind the story: Annawadi is separated from mega-luxurious hotels for tourists and executives by a high wall. On this wall is an ad for a tile company, called “Beautiful Forevers”, something, no doubt, marketing managers thought would appeal to customers, who ride in and out of the hotels, perhaps contemplating the renovation of their mega-mansion someplace in India or beyond.
Katherine Boo spent years interviewing subjects in Annawadi, making long time relationships with slum dwellers despite the filth and disagreeable environment. Her deep understanding of poverty and how it drives people to various destinies was carved out in her work for the New Yorker “reporting for 15 years on low-income, U.S. communities.”
Considering that she and her husband spend a good deal of time in India it’s probably unlikely that she will ever do the same kind of long range discovery and subsequent writing in Brazil’s Amazon. But from another article which I read yesterday about cities taking over the forests, the opportunity for journalists is there.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. In speaking of the two Indias, it reminds me of every other country I have visited with the poor living next door to the rich. Boo says that she is planning now to do another investigation in India, outside of Mumbai; however, with a bit of hope, she reports that she has visited with at least three of her former interviewees who are on successful journeys to marriage and family, to education and to entrepreneurship. It’s nonfiction that reads like a novel. It moved me forward.