Katherine Boo, a journalist known for her perceptive writing about the poor and the voiceless, has just published a book about the people of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. It is getting some really great reviews. Here is an excerpt from one by Thrity Umrigar:
And yet, despite such instances of human decency, the residents of Annawadi are not the saintly, noble poor of much fiction. There are no Tiny Tims or Tom Joads here. They cannot afford to be. Living on subsistence wages, beside sewer lakes and mud-cased pigs and goats, standing in line for hours for a trickle of water, facing the daily threat of the imminent razing of the illegal slum, battling their own superstitions and flaws, killing themselves to pay for a substandard education for their children doesn’t leave much time for human kindness.
This is not poverty porn. Rather, it is an unflinching, unsentimental portrait of the city’s poor - mean, envious, striving. There is no apotheosis in poverty, Boo reminds us. There is only humiliation and a kind of bewilderment.
Affluent Indians are deeply sensitive about the “negative’’ portrayal of their country, and I suppose Boo will come in for her share of criticism. This would be a mistake. “Beautiful Forevers’’ is an astoundingly honest, nonexploitative piece of journalism, a humane, powerful and insightful book that reveals how the world’s poor live, die, and hope in the age of globalization.