Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Flowers

By Gwyneth McCrae, 12th Grade


Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo provides the curious student with a narrative of Indian social and economic inequality through the eyes of teenagers in the slums.   A glimpse into the real effects of extreme inequality in impoverished communities both introduces new ideas and challenges the old. Through the scope of a murder accusation in the slums, Boo targets the question of what causes people to fall into the state of corruption and isolation that prevails across all economic levels of Mumbai.

While the questions at hand are complex, Boo introduces them in a way that is easily accessible to the western reader. By playing into stereotypical ideals of empathy and desire for connection at times, Boo sets up the stage on which she is able to completely reject them. Through this push and pull on the reader’s comfort, a clearer lens through which to look is developed. She is understanding in her efforts to construct empathetic connection and simultaneously unforgiving in her attacks on westernized views of the foreign and the impoverished. In the end we are taught that no, we don’t know these people but yes, we can strive to.

Although Boo focuses her narrative on the lives and experiences of those on the lowest end of the economic spectrum, there is a heavy handed contrast against the wealth that surrounds them. While the physical representations of the drastic inequality speak mostly for themselves, Boo draws on them throughout the narrative, nearly forcing the reader to acknowledge the fact that while these two things are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they have immediate effects that transcend all levels of wealth in Mumbai. Boo runs these concepts parallel to western ideals, creating a story that is both compelling in the way it stretches the reader’s understanding of the world, and shocking in the way that it confronts the reader with the unfortunate truths of the society in which we live.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is both an honest account of life at the lowest levels of society, and a expertly written commentary of the patterns that lead to the most debilitating forms of inequality in modern society. Boo exercises her ability to look at the present rather than the past as a means of finding a greater understanding of our societies and the way that they function. For a western reader, Behind the Beautiful Forevers grants access to the types of circumstances that cause us to better understand those around us. It stands as a true testament to the complexity and humanity of the lowest class and as an eloquent critique of those that lie above it.