Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

February 15, 2013 at 18:38 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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Katherin Boo Beautiful Forevers Mumbai SlumI received a Kindle for Christmas last year, I think after Mrs Chillikebab got fed up with me borrowing hers and relegating her to the ignominy of a real, actual paper book. E-readers are the go, people. Ditch that paper – so twentieth century. E-books are just so much more convenient – (and so much cheaper). That said, there is one thing I miss about real books – and that’s the front cover. Being somewhat visual in nature, I rememberer books, titles and authors by the cover artwork, and I find on the Kindle I struggle to recall the title or the author of the books I have read. There’s also a slightly jarring sensation when you start reading, as the first thing you are confronted with is the first age of text. Opening a new book after looking at the cover, then flicking through the first few pages of bits and bobs to find the start of the actual book represents a few moments of pleasant anticipation which are missing with an e-book. This small thing is outweighed but the huge advantages of the electronic format, but perhaps publishers could include some sort of digital cover and title page? Oh dear, I’m starting to sound like one of those people lamenting the demise of vinyl because of the artwork.

So what have I been reading on my Kindle? Well, the first book I read was Katherine Boo’s extraordinary account of life in a Mumbai slum. It is not a work of fiction, but it is more than a simple documentary. The characters leap off the page, vividly portrayed, and the prose rattles along like a novel – this is a book that’s hard to put down. Yet it is disturbing. Boo is neither sympathetic nor judgemental in her depiction, but reveals a set of desperate lives, lived in a place where it is both necessary to reply on and trample on your neighbours just to survive. To read this book is to get a glimpse of poverty; of the dreadful cheapness of human life and the unobtainability of even the smallest part of the world’s wealth that drives the very poor to exploit those even weaker and poverty-struck than themselves.

This is a book I highly recommend; it will stay with you for days and weeks after you finish it, and raise uncomfortable questions in your mind about equality and equity. As I put my shiny new Kindle down after reading it I can’t help reflecting that its quite modest cost represents probably the annual family income of some of the characters depicted. Real people, with real names, living in that place even as you read this, scratching a living out of scrabbling for bottletops in dustbins and selling their bodies for a few cents.


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