One of the few things I requested for Christmas was a few books that I had seen in the New York Times Book Review. I had seen a number that looked good, but instead chose to ask for only 2 or 3 that drew my attention and felt like I should read them. In any case, one of the books that I requested and received for Christmas was "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo. Normally I prefer fiction over non-fiction for no other reason than I find fiction to be generally better written and more captivating. I know there are well written non-fiction books out there, I just haven't read many of them. Well, I took a turn away from my norm in reading the book by Mrs. Boo which happens to be billed as narrative non-fiction. It was a well crafted book that took me on a journey just as my favorite fiction book would have. I haven't read a good book like that, just for myself, in a long time. While I used to be an avid reader when I was younger, I have lately found it harder to carve the time out my schedule to simply sit down with a book and read for enjoyment. I have found little bits of time here and there though, mostly in the mornings either while in the bathroom on the weekdays or on the weekends lounging on the couch with a cup of coffee before my family wakes up. In any case, a book that would have taken me about a week to read years ago took me a month to finish now. In fact, I just finished it this morning. It got to the point where I didn't care how delayed my morning would be, I just had to finish reading the book. As such I am running late this morning, but so be it. It was well worth the delay in order to finish reading this book. But enough about my reading, my finishing reading, and the books that I got for Christmas. I highly recommend this book to anyone, either readers of fiction or non-fiction, as I am sure it will pull you in as it did me.
This book is based on 3 years of research done by Mrs. Boo in a relatively small Mumbai slum in India. While poverty can be found anywhere in the world, there seems to be a greater contrast between the poor and the rich in India, the conditions that they survive in, and the meager life they create for themselves. Its a portrait of lives and the way they live that is largely foreign to us in the West. There is very little that we can look to as a comparison for the squalor that is their lives. This book, "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers", brings the reader up close and personal to life in the slums. We get vivid images of the tiny "houses", some as small as 60 square feet, that accommodate sometimes a whole family. While the conditions they live in are far from what most of us reading the book would consider adequate, their struggles are to survive, the improve their lot in life, and to move themselves up the ladder of life is something that we can all relate to. In addition to getting a vivid picture of the conditions they live in, we also see an incredibly corrupt society that seems hell bent on keeping them where they are despite reassurances to the contrary. For us living in "developed" societies to see such a view of life drives home just how far we all need to go in terms of equality and helping those in need. While we may not have the enormous slums depicted in this book, we still play host to immense poverty and forlorn conditions that exist just beyond our doorstep. There are very few cities, if any, that don't contain some level of poverty, that don't contain inhumane conditions, and can be considered capable of catering to every need of every person. Enter the disparity between the rich and the poor. It seems the rich keep getting richer and the poor stay the same. So it goes in every society, but through the eyes of this book, it seems more distinct and relevant in societies that are seeking to "develop" themselves and create a more equal playing field for everyone.
I found this book to be excellently written, more akin to fiction than the non-fiction it actually is. The portrayal of the characters is real and believable and the book as a whole sucks you in, begging you not to put it down, but to finish it in its entirety. There are not many books that I would go to such lengths to write about, but this is definitely one of them. I am a little skeptical about my next read as it is almost three times as long and translated from Chinese into English. We shall see how that one goes. But for now, I simply recommend picking up a copy of Katherine Boo's "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers", making yourself a pot of coffee, and sitting down in a comfy chair to enjoy a good read, despite the depressing conditions it depicts and forces you to face.