How does Behind the Beautiful Forevers reflect the problems of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and powerlessness?
Clearly, Boo's prize winning non-fiction account of life in the slums of Mumbai deals with the key themes of poverty, inequality, unemployment and powerlessness through the presentation of the realities of life in a Mumbai slum. The initial description of the slum and its surroundings in the Prologue make these themes absolutely clear:
Serving the airport clientele, and encircling Annawadi, were five extravagant hotels: four ornate, marbly megaliths and one sleek blue-glass Hyatt, from the top-floor windows of which Annawadi and several adjacent squatter settlements looked like villages that had been airdropped into gaps between elegant modernities.
As Mirchi says, "Everything around us is roses... and we're the shit in between." The issues of powerlessness, poverty and inequality are therefore at the very centre of this work, and are developed through the description of the challenges that face these slum dwellers. The constant reminder of the massive inequality of India is represented in the uber-modern and wealthy buildings that encircle the slum. Boo's moving account traces the challenges that the various slum dwellers she follows have just to survive and to make ends meet in a world that gives them hardly any opportunity and little chance to improve themselves. Boo presents the Western reader, sitting comfortably in his or her armchair in their secure home in the suburbs, with a world where it is so impossibly hard to live a "good" life and where so many are forced into crime or corruption in order to survive. These are presented as necessary strategies by Boo in order to survive the inequality, unemployment, poverty and powerlessness that are such a daily reality for the slum dwellers depicted in this book.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is a nonfiction work portraying the lives of people in Annawadi, a slum area near a refuse dump in Mumbai. Mumbai itself is a strikingly unequal city, a center of vast new wealth from India's technology industry that is also home to vast slums. A graphic illustration of inequality in the book is seen in the proximity of Annawadi to the international airport and its adjacent luxury hotels. It can be seen but cannot be afforded by residents of Annawadi. Equally dramatic is the way that many of the residents of Annawadi survive by picking through the garbage tossed out by their wealthier neighbors.
Boo emphasizes how poverty affects every aspect of the lives of the Annawadi residents, including health and justice. The residents live in unhealthy conditions, exposed to toxic chemicals, and lack reliable access to clean water and good sanitation. The corruption of the justice system means that they have little recourse to legal defenses when cheated, as the wealthy can bribe judges and hire expert lawyers. This leads to powerlessness and makes it difficult for them to work their way out of poverty, no matter how hardworking and enterprising they are.