June 2019: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity, by Katherine Boo

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 – discussion lead: Lynn

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a non-fiction book written by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo in 2012. It won the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize among many others. It has also been adapted into a play by David Hare in 2014, shown on National Theatre Live in 2015.

The book describes a present-day slum of Mumbai, India, named Annawadi, and located near the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. It follows the interconnected lives of several residents, including a young trash picker, a female “slumlord,” and a college student. The author is an American woman who often visited Mumbai with her husband, who was from the area and had a job in the city.

From The Guardian’s review by Amit Chaudhuri: […] For Katherine Boo, working on this intimate account of life in Annawadi was slow, uncertain and painful in a variety of ways. For this, her first book, Boo, a Pulitzer prize-winning staff writer on the New Yorker, spent much of her life between November 2007 and March 2011 in Annawadi, documenting events with “written notes, video recordings, audiotapes and photographs”. Since she doesn’t know any Indian languages, she had translators throughout, one of whom must have helped her understand the sort of rejoinder that Asha made to Robert, ex-slumlord and one of her tormentors. For middle-class people like me who grew up in Bombay, forays into slums were infrequent. One sensed the goings-on and exchanges inside them as one would a foreign world, without completely understanding what was being said, in spite of (unlike Boo) knowing the language.[…]

Good Reads’s (readers) reviews here.

About the author:

From Penguin Random House: […] Katherine Boo is the author of the National Book Award winner for Nonfiction, the 2013 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award winner, and a 2013 Pulitzer finalist, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. In 2001, after many years spent exploring how people get out of poverty in the United States, she met Sunil Khilnani, an Indian writer and political historian. His country, which has one-third of the world’s poor and is also one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, became her country, too. Over time, moving between the U.S. and India, she came to feel that the style of reporting she practiced in America—a mix of intimate immersion and investigation—might have some value in India as well. From November 2007, when Boo first walked into Annawadi, until March 2011, when she completed her reporting, she documented the experiences of residents with written notes, video recordings, audiotapes, photographs, and thousands of public records. […]

1 thought on “June 2019: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity, by Katherine Boo

  1. Here are my recommendations for our next read. As I mentioned in my email yesterday I selected books that are much lighter in subject matter (with one possible exception).

    My assumption is that these books are available at the library. The one exception might be The Tubman Command since it’s a newly published book (I don’t know how quickly newly published books appear in libraries).

    Hometown Appetites; Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris

    This book tells the story of Clementine Paddleford described as the “forgotten food writer who chronicled how America ate.” Her career ran from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. The authors say that after Clementine’s death (1967) “all traces of her life were nearly erased and noted at the time their book was published that her name was known to just a handful of influential food writers and editors for whom she has, until now, been a cult figure.”

    I have read this book and Clementine can best be described as a woman before her time in my opinion. The following is a short summary of the book:

    “A portrait of a pioneering food writer traces her rise from a Kansas farm girl to an influential columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, in a tribute that reveals her role in transforming newspaper food sections, her contributions on behalf of working women, and the legacy of her book, How America Eats.”

    I selected one review from Goodreads because it supports my feelings about the book.

    “This book about Clementine Paddleford, mid-20th century food critic/observer, is a fascinating study of a driven woman creating the beginnings of the modern food revolution. I started reading this out of interest in the “food revolution” but quickly became engrossed in Paddleford’s life and travels. I recommend this for anyone with an interest in food writing, an interest in American journalism, or an interest in strong women.”

    Paddleford’s book “How American Eats” which is a main topic of Hometown Appetites is out of print. Its popularity grew with the publication of this book (2008) thus driving the price up. I just located a reasonably priced copy and have ordered it. I plan to read it before our September meeting.

    Kelly Alexander is a food editor and was a long time editor at Saveur magazine. Cynthia Harris is the manuscript/collections architect at Kansas State University.

    The Tubman Command; Elizabeth Cobbs

    A new publication, this book caught my attention in part because of what’s played out in the news recently (decision to delay putting her image on the $20 bill) and resulting articles about her contributions in this country. While I was familiar with her name I must sadly admit I didn’t know as much about her as I probably should have. This book is described as follows:

    “The book tells the story of Tubman at the height of her powers, when she devises the largest plantation raid of the Civil War. General David Hunter places her in charge of a team of black scouts even though skeptical of what one woman can accomplish. For her gamble to succeed, “Moses” must outwit alligators, overseers, slave catchers, sharpshooters, and even hostile Union soldiers to lead gunships up the Combahee River. Men stand in her way at every turn–though one reminds her that love shouldn’t have to be the price of freedom.”

    I have not yet read this book; however, I’m intrigued tp read about yet another strong women who succeeded against what can likely best be described as almost insurmountable odds.

    Elizabeth Cobbs is described as “An award-winning novelist, historian, and documentary filmmaker.”

    My Twenty-Five Years in Provence; Peter Mayle

    Written by Peter Mayle in 2018 this book “pays tribute to the most endearing and enduring aspects of his life in France” since his move to Provence 25 years ago. My love of Peter Mayle the author started with my read of his book “A Year in Provence.” For those who may not be familiar with Peter he was a successful ad exec in England and decided to move to France with his wife. A year in Provence chronicles their experiences of settling into their new home in Provence.

    This is one of the last books he wrote before his death in January 0f 2018.

    This one review from Goodreads seemed to best capture my thoughts about his writing style.

    “This is yet another gem from Peter Mayle! In this short treasure, he sums up the joys and idiosyncrasies of his life in his adopted home of the past twenty-five years, Provence. He has always written with joy and humor, and this one is no exception, as he tells about summer guests, sneaky truffle hunters, the joys of French dining, and the French language. He concludes his book by sharing the story of when he became a knight of the Legion of Honor, a huge honor, especially for an Englishman.”

    I have not yet read this book.

    A Walk in the Woods; Bill Bryson

    Although his name sounds familiar I don’t believe I’ve read any of his books before. I also read somewhere that this book puts into perspective what can be lost if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening environmentally.

    A summary of the book is as follows:

    “Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes—and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

    For a start there’s the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz’s overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.”

    I also purchased another of his books at the same time “The Road to Little Dribbling” described as the adventures of an American in Britain.

    The reviews I read were mixed although I’d say more liked the book then not. Those who didn’t like it seemed to think Bryson was annoying. I also got the impression that some who did not like the book were what I’ll call hiking purists.

    I will bring the books with me on Tuesday.


    Sent from Mail for Windows 10



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