Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Random House, $27, 256 pp.
In the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008–09, the sleek and growing international airport of Mumbai looked across two hundred yards of elegant landscaping at a concrete wall plastered with ads for floor tiles that promised (over and over again) to be “beautiful forever.” The advertisements addressed a rising middle class in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but they also hid from view a squatter community called Annawadi, an embarrassment to a burgeoning financial center that could not shake its other identity as “Slumbai.” In Behind the Beautiful Forevers, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for nonfiction, Katherine Boo takes us into the community of Annawadi, principally during those two years. We live at close quarters with several families who have adapted to a default condition of desperation and who inhabit a highly complex system of corruption (vertiginously displayed in the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire...