The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat -

WHENPulitzer Prize-win­ning Amer­i­can writer Kather­ine Boo fell in love with In­dian aca­demic Su­nil Khilnani, she says she ‘‘gained a coun­try’’. But Boo soon re­alised that ques­tions needed an­swer­ing about ‘‘an in­creas­ingly af­flu­ent and pow­er­ful na­tion’’ that ‘‘still housed one-third of the poverty, and onequar­ter of the hunger, on the planet’’. For al­most four years, she fo­cused on the in­hab­i­tants of An­nawadi, a Mum­bai slum crouched near the air­port and its fancy in­ter­na­tional ho­tels, to write Be­hind the Beau­ti­ful Fore­vers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mum­bai Un­dercity (Scribe, $27.95). How were the poor­est of the poor cop­ing in the age of global mar­kets and hith­erto un­known, but still largely unattain­able, wealth, power and sta­tus? Boo’s nar­ra­tive non-fic­tion reads like a novel, so vividly por­trayed are the slumd­wellers and their per­ilous yet hope­ful lives. I wa­ger you will not lightly for­get hard-work­ing young Mus­lim rub­bish sorter Ab­dul and his des­per­ate fam­ily as they bat­tle to sur­vive false manslaugh­ter ac­cu­sa­tions, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance and neigh­bour­hood envy in Mum­bai’s ‘‘un­dercity’’.

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