Time for the first non-fiction read of 2012!
Katherine Boo's Beyond the Beautiful Forevers is pretty much summed up in its subtitle: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Though I'd easily add "Despair" to that list as there is plenty of that in spades in this swirling and eye-opening non-fiction account of life in a slum in the shadow of fancy international airport and five-star hotels.
It often reads like a novel, or perhaps one hopes that it is a novel as it is hard to believe - or one does not want to believe - that the poverty relayed in this book is truly the everyday life of hundreds of thousands of people, not only in India, but around the world. It is about the struggles for the very bases of life - for food, water, a roof over one's head - with the attainment of that often being based on whole one best can salvage garbage or navigate government and other rampant institutional corruption.
Amazingly enough, there is hope throughout the book. Boo follows a handful of "characters" over several years who, against insurmountable odds, find ways to improve their lives and retain some iota of hope for the future. But this is scary Darwinian "survival of the fittest" stuff from start to finish.
My quibbles with the work is that I found it difficult to follow at times. While I read the book in a fairly quick manner, it often took me a page or two to remember which person was which, especially the amongst the supporting players. And while I never doubted the veracity of what was being told, the omniscient type narrative made me wonder how this explosive narrative was pulled together. Her research methodology is explained in the quite interesting author's notes section. It got me thinking I would have preferred if Boo inserted herself in the narrative. I do not believe this would have lessened the impact of the story in the least bit.
5-star material for sure, but I'll knock a point off for some of the execution. 4 stars.
... and remember when I said I was done with the Tournament of Books books for this year? Well, decided on another one and that's next up!