Best Non-Fiction Book of 2012
[Originally published April 27, 2012]
WHAT LIES BEHIND
…January 2008. It was about as hopeful a season as there had been in the years since a bitty slum popped up in the biggest city of a country that holds one-third of the planet’s poor. A country dizzy now with development and circulating money.
Mumbai's international airport is surrounded by an ever expanding collection of luxury hotels. Driving into the city's centre, you’d pass the Sheratons and Hyatts and a long high wall with an advertisement for Italian ceramic tiles. The ad on that wall reads: “Beautiful Forever, Beautiful Forever, Beautiful Forever.” In an interview with the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo, described how when driving in a car, you wouldn’t be able to see behind this wall where that “bitty” slum lies : 3,000 people packed into 335 huts, the eastern border of which is a lake “of sewage and petro-chemicals and illegally dumped materials.”
This slum, and all that surrounds it, is what Behind the Beautiful Forevers is all but exclusively concerned with.
AN AMERICAN IN INDIA
Married to an Indian, Boo has spent the last ten years splitting her time between India and the States, and devoted almost four full years to documenting the lives of a half dozen residents of this small slum known as Annawadi. Having spent the majority of her journalism career documenting the poor and disadvantaged back in her native USA for The Washington Post and now at The New Yorker where she serves as a staff writer, she comes by her subject honestly enough. Thus with video cameras and audio tape, using written notes and still cameras, with tremendous access to huge stacks of official documents and working for years alongside two translators, Boo did more than just sit down and conduct lengthy interviews with the half dozen central characters that populate this book. She made a point of going with these people as they did their work, as they lived their daily lives. In other words, she got to know these slum dwellers as well as a fiction author must know the main characters of their novel.