Katherine Boo's new book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is astounding on three levels: 1) it is a phenomenal narrative of the people of Annawadi, a tiny slum between luxury hotels, near the Mumbai International Airport, on the shore of a vast sewage lake, you follow the stories of Asha the aspiring slumlord, who escaped the clutches of rural poverty; Manju, her beautiful daughter, who is attending college; Abdul, the garbage sorter, who is the main provider for his family; Fatima the One Leg, a promiscuous and angry woman who may have drowned her young daughter in a bucket, and who lit herself on fire in order to exact revenge on Abdul's family; Kalu, the entertaining thief; Sunil and Sonu and Zehrunista and Meena . . . and their stories are by turns bleak, tragic, comic, petty, and sometimes slightly hopeful 2) it is also a courtroom drama, and you follow the criminal cases of the burning and several murders through the byzantine labyrinth and corruption of the Mumbai courts 3) it is a phenomenal work of journalism, and as you are reading the engaging narrative, there is no way not to also think about how all this information was ascertained, and Katherine Boo details this in the afterword: four years of painstaking research, living in the Annawadi slum; many many assistants and translators to help her interview the subjects; and Boo's dogged petitioning of government agencies under the aegis of India's Right to Information act, so that she could peruse over three thousand official documents: police records, court orders, public health notices, political documents, etcetera . . . if you read this book, you will never forget it . . . but I warn you, it doesn't end like Slumdog Millionaire ( and it's a good one to read if you're angry because you've just taken a pay cut, which I think many folks have . . . due to the end of the Payroll Tax Holiday, and for teachers, an increase in health care and pension payments . . . and though Donaldson Park is full of goose-shit at this time of year, it's still a far cry from a "vast sewage lake," so I'll look on the bright side of things).

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