This month the TAFicity book club read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. The book tells the story of a few families who live in the Annawadi slum, a makeshift settlement near luxury hotels and the Mumbai airport in India. It follows Abdul, who gathers trash to earn money until tragedy hits his family; and Meena, who will be the slum’s first female college graduate, an accomplishment that means more on paper than in the harsh reality she faces as a poor Indian woman.
We had varied opinions about the book. One person liked it, another hated it, one read part of the book and wasn’t excited to finish it, but probably still will. The audio book seemed to be the way to go with this book. The writing style is a mix of straight journalism and storytelling that at times felt staged or accentuated to highlight certain ideas that didn’t necessarily contribute to the overall themes of the book. For example, a nun who exploits an orphanage and naïve tourists for financial gain, is given quite a bit of space on the page, but didn’t feel necessary to the plot. As a writer I struggled with Boo’s disguised insertion of her opinions and judgments into the story without being up front about it. We all wanted more cultural and religious information to better understand the characters, their motives and actions.
Our different perspectives led to a lively discussion about everything from political corruption and poverty to the sacrifices the characters made for each other and themselves, what they were willing to give away of someone else’s for their own gain, the roles of women and men in Indian culture, and how things we take for granted, like easy travel, are difficult or impossible for people from other countries. It was a wonderful chance to talk about books and get to know each other better.
The next book club meeting will be Sunday, August 2nd. We will discuss The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Even if you don’t finish the book, please come to the discussion. We’d love to see you!