Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hope springs eternal

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Be warned, this book may be too topical for some. It deals with the underpinnings of racial and sectarian violence in an Indian slum, only a step away from the Middle East. It’s written by a privileged white American attempting objectivity and tells the story of how Muslims, Hindus, and other poor folks try to survive and thrive amidst poverty most Americans can’t imagine, and therefore have a hard time believing, let alone empathizing with.

The book is an attempt to stir up that empathy, I believe. But Ms. Boo, while attempting her objectivity, leads with a manipulative cliffhanger. Some people can handle immolation in the first scene and not know the fate of the woman for a hundred pages or so; they find it does draw them into the story and keeps them reading. It makes me want to strangle the author or editor. I’m committed to reading when I read the title, subtitle, and jacket copy, unless it’s badly written. I want to know the complete story already and I do want footnotes and to know that there were years and many interviews involved upfront. After you have manipulated me on the first page, I have a hard time believing that you’re inside the head of all these folks just from the narrative. Start at the beginning!

It’s a very good look at the choices people make when their choices are limited. There is no pity here, no plea for mercy. One is left with reality, hard questions: is poverty a problem? Can people of different cultures ever really get along? Does morality have a sliding scale?

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