Katherine Boo's first book "Beyond the Beautiful Forever" rises beyond journalism as it follows the life of a group of youngsters for a while in a slum called Annawadi near Mumbai's Sahar airport. The book has gathered great reviews already. Joseph Lelyveld called it the "best piece of journalism to come out of India in the last fifty years". Shashi Tharoor and Jonathan Shinin, the editor of Caravan, have very high praise for it. The lives of the children are blighted by the utter lack of prospects and their knowledge of it. That the stunted rag picker, Sunil, has a spurt of growth in the brief months when he turns into a thief, tells us of the kind of deprivation these children live in. They are in danger from corrupt policemen, their means of livelihood, and, some, even from their parents. These children are not free agents; they are prey. All this will not surprise an Indian reader. What surprises is that the view of life is entirely from the children's eyes. The book gets its power by entering their minds, where the awful circumstances of their lives almost appear ordinary. This unswerving viewpoint brings us to understand that they are not statistics, they are individuals, with individual motivations and failures. In doing this the book rises beyond journalism to reach towards the psychological understanding of a novel. Katherine Boo makes an appearance only in the last chapter where she writes about the methods that enabled her to enter the minds of children and teenagers who are not very expressive. This too is a fascinating insight, although to a different world: the motives and methods of a Pulitzer-winning journalist.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2012: Katherine Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling, cockeyed settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport. From within this “sumpy plug of slum” Boo unearths stories both tragic and poignant--about residents’ efforts to raise families, earn a living, or simply survive. These unforgettable characters all nurture far-fetched dreams of a better life. As one boy tells his brother: “Everything around us is roses. And we’re like the s**t in between.” A New Yorker writer and recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “Genius” grant, Boo’s writing is superb and the depth and courage of her reporting from this hidden world is astonishing. At times, it’s hard to believe this is nonfiction. --Neal Thompson