Review of Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Rating *** 1/2
This nonfiction tale of life in a Mumbai slum has been highly touted in the press. The Kindle version, however, lacked much-needed maps and photos, which made the book hard to follow. It’s a shame that publishers put so little effort into their electronic versions. They basically take the text and reformat it and call it day. No photos. No maps. No hyperlinks. They didn’t even take advantage of the Kindle’s navigation. I’m sure the experience with the printed version included the missing items mentioned above, at least I would hope so.
The author spent several years working on this story and took hours of video and still photographs. Had the publisher took the time to include those images in context, this book would have been so much better. As it is, I found it difficult to visualize the settings and the many people who populate the story.
The author starts the book with the arrest of several family members falsely accused of first attacking, then later instigating, the self-mutilation from burning of a fellow slum dweller. But this serves only as a very loose frame. The author spends much of the book jumping from one story to the next, one character to another, one setting to another. I didn’t find myself engaged until the author picked up the original story of the falsely accused, which happens near the end of the book.
Katherine Boo is an accomplished writer. She took on a subject that needed to be covered. But I have to say when it comes to poverty and the abuse of women, two books that immediately come to mind our Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Both of these books cover similar themes but do it in a much more focused way.
I did find a website dedicated to the book, but here again it is a poor use of the medium. The photo gallery has about eight images. No video. I didn’t even find the book trailer uploaded to Amazon, which was also poorly done. Are you telling me that that is the best you can do with all of the source material you have? Sorry, but I’m not going to jump on the praise band wagon.