Wow, humans throw away a lot of stuff
And where there are more humans, there is more stuff, or garbage.
Katherine Boo's super readable narrative nonfiction account of three years in the Mumbai slum of Annawadi, near the spectacularly beautiful 5-star Hyatt Regency Hotel and Mumbai International Airport, will blow your mind. 3000 people live on a half-acre of land. The poverty, disease and loss of life are staggering. The amount of waste, consumer and otherwise, is remarkable.
Annawadi is situated across a sewage lake from the luxury hotels and airport. The residents make do with little to no formal education, running water, food and medicine. The mortality rate is extremely high. Many of the subjects followed during the author's three year stay suffer from tuberculosis, black-lung, jaundice, hepatitis, HIV, body fungus, rat bites, open sores infested by maggots and lice, and inhalant abuse from a watered down version of Wite-Out.
Several different families were followed over the course of the three years, but the Husain family is central. Teenaged Abdul supports his family of eleven by collecting the trash left behind by airport workers, tourists and wealthy Hyatt partygoers. He sorts the trash and trades it in for money. It's a dangerous and exhausting job, but because Abdul does well enough to support his family, a jealous neighbor falsely accuses him and other members of his family of setting her on fire. Much of the book follows the repercussions of this event.
Reading about hunger and disease is hard, but for me, the jealousy, betrayal and corruption between family members, neighbors, and government and law officials is harder to read about. Mumbai is one of the largest cities in the world and there are more fringe jobs, illicit activities and ways to get in trouble with that many more millions of people.
I don't read a ton of narrative nonfiction, but some of the books that have stayed with me the most include The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Like Behind the Beautiful Forevers, these books make you think about poverty and understand the consequences a little more.