This is a book I’ve had on my To-Read list for ages, since I first found out about it from John Green’s book recommendations video. I randomly spotted it in the college library and thought I’d give it a go (so begins many of my reading stories).
This was such an interesting book. I was slightly put off by the title, which I thought sounded quite soppy and sentimental, but this was absolutely not the case. The book was written by an American journalist, who decided to spend 3 years living in a slum in Mumbai. The title actually arises from some adverts for tiles that is on the wall between the slum and the airport. The adverts promise that the tiles will be “Beautiful Forever”, and so the slum itself is “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”.
Anyway, the book follows various inhabitants of the slum, what they do in their day-to-day lives, their aspirations, successes, and failures. Katherine Boo herself is not a character, and it is just told in the third person as if life were going on as normal.
I thought this book offered amazing insight into the lives of people in slums. It was very interesting, and taught me a lot I didn’t know about their struggles, and especially the extraordinary amounts of corruption that they face from all authorities. It raised quite a lot of issues for me about the effectiveness of charities, and how difficult it is to help people in need when they are surrounded by a cage of corrupt authorities.
I thought the topic was dealt with a great deal of humanity, but without being sentimental, or patronising to the characters. I would recommend this to everyone really – I think it’s one of those books that’s “important” to read, in order to understand the problems that other people face.
Incidentally, anyone who’s read this book and worries (as I did) about how helpful the money they donate to charity actually is, I’d recommend you check out Giving What We Can. It’s an organisation that investigates charities, and comes up with a list of the most “effective” ones – i.e. the ones that allow your money to have the most impact. Many of the charitable organisations mentioned in this book are having their money siphoned off by corrupt authorities at a higher level, and it never actually reaches the people it was intended for. I believe GWWC investigates charities very carefully, to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen.