Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

My name is Stephanie and I have taken over the Online Reading Challenge from Ann after her retirement! She wrote wonderfully for the blog for years and is already missed so much by everyone at the Davenport Public Library. I’m hoping to be able to live up to the high standards and quality blog posts she has written through the years and create content that you all will love! If you have any suggestions regarding the blog or the Online Reading Challenge, please email me at sspraggon@davenportlibrary.com. Now, let’s wrap up April!

How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in India that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!

I read our main title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. This nonfiction title follows the residents of Annawadi, a slum outside Mumbai. It focuses on specific families and their nearly impossible quest for upward mobility. This story is a heartbreaking look at modern India’s vast inequalities in fulfillment of basic human needs, as well as the opportunity inequalities that run rampant. Boo narrates this book in third-person which lets readers glimpse India and Annawadi as a whole, while also looking deeper into the lives of the people and events present. Boo does an excellent job revealing the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of absolute poverty.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement that exists in the shadows of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. It’s seen as one of many eyesores across the country as India starts to prosper. Annawadi residents are pushed further and further to the wayside while global change rises up around them, despite the residents’ best efforts to move up in the world.

Abdul is a Muslim teenager who believes he has found a profitable business in selling the recyclable garbage that richer people toss on the ground around Annawadi. Asha is a woman who grew up in rural poverty and who ended up in Annawadi with her family, determined to use her formidable wit to scrape her way to the middle class through political corruption. Asha’s daughter is considered Annawadi’s ‘most-everything girl’. She is hoping to be the slum’s first female college graduate. Even the poorest people in Annawadi believe that they are on track to living good lives.

Plans screech to a halt when Abdul and his family are falsely accused in a horribly shocking tragedy happens in the slum. Terror attacks rock the country and the world. A global recession finds its way to Mumbai and known sources of income start to dry up. All these issues bring many suppressed tensions to the surface and Annawadi erupts. Hope clashes with truth, leaving dreams crushed in the mud as people push for better lives for themselves and their families. How far the people of Annawadi are willing to go to get what they deserve is at the heart of this novel. Fighting against outside forces and issues within themselves, Abdul, Asha, and their families work hard for the good lives they want and deserve.

I really enjoyed this book. Nonfiction is usually difficult for me to get through, but a friend owned the audiobook version and kindly offered it to me. Sunil Malhotra is the award-winning narrator who tackles this tough subject matter and large number of characters with grace. Initially I was confused as the book starts at a key moment, flashes back to set up the drama, and then continues forward, but quickly was able to get back into the narration. As the story progressed, I found myself wishing that I could refer back to the print book as I was confused, but all in all, the author and narrator together crafted a nonfiction book that read like fiction to me. Boo tackles these difficult topics with grace, sincerity, intelligence, and humor. While this certainly isn’t a happily ever after book, she manages to connect each human being to each other and, most importantly, brings her readers into this hidden world rife with devastating and tumultuous change. These people will be hard to forget.

In May we’re headed to Ireland!

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is also available in the following formats:

One thought on “Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

  1. I read The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. I actually listened to it (which I don’t do very often) but it was a good choice for this title. The narrator had a beautiful voice that was perfect. I enjoyed the story of a woman in 1950s India struggling for her independence at a time when India was struggling to define itself as a nation after independence from England. There’s a lot about standing firm with your beliefs, forging new paths and dreams, honoring the past even as you move into the modern world. I was also fascinated by the descriptions of Indian foods, customs, patterns and of course, henna art.

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