Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for December 2012

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

leave a comment »

Screen Shot 2012-12-29 at 10.18.47 AM Yesterday I finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  Boo follows the lives of various residents of a Mumbai slum over the course of four years, chronicling their slim hopes and crushing disappointments.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an intensely  practical book.  To Boo the problem she examines is less one of moral outrage and more one of practical questions: how do the people here survive?  What forces buffet them as they try to improve their meager lives?

The answer is they almost always off the backs of those who are poorer and more vulnerable than themselves.  The corruption shown in the book is immense and functions at all levels from the police on down.  The police use the slum as a place to extort money from residents.  For actual protection the residents have to pay local enforcers to keep them safe.  Schools exist largely in name only so the teachers (who bought their positions) can draw salaries.  Every NGO & government scheme for improvement is siphoned off before it reaches the trash-sorting boys and their families at the bottom.  Rampant political corruption is alluded to but largely functions outside the scope of the book.

This backdrop drives the outcomes.  Entrepreneurial strivers make progress: a three-rupee rise in trash prices brings enough money to put in a brick wall instead of a cardboard one. But tragedy strikes: illness, the police, sabotage by a jealous neighbor.  Perhaps most tragic were the suicides.  So many suicides.  Some out of fear.  Some out of rage.  One because this choice was the one choice a 15-year-old girl had in her life dominated by a raging family planning to marry her off.  They live just long enough to bankrupt the family who mortgages everything to pay for the medical bill.

Because the book is so practical it’s difficult to draw lessons from it.  Within its vivid descriptions there is little prescription.  What well meaning change or intervention wouldn’t be swamped, co-opted, and used by the same greedy forces that dominate every level of the slum?  The corruption, poverty, and lack of resources are all encompassing for these people.

In the end I’m not sure if I’d recommend the book.  It was gritty, realistic, and heartbreaking but I’m not sure what I learned from it.  It wasn’t news to me that the poorest are the most helpless.  Powerful people without accountability are corrupt.  These are lessons I’ve learned before from Gang Leader for a Day and The Wire.  

The prose wasn’t particularly beautiful.  The story largely functioned at the individual level but jumped between characters in a way that made it difficult to find an arc.   Focusing on individuals made it difficult to discern the macro forces behind the poverty and injustice.  This reflects the viewpoint of the slum residents themselves.  If the book misses the forest for the trees, perhaps it does so because for someone about to be crushed, the tree is all that is he can see.

Written by furthermusings

December 29, 2012 at 11:14 am

Posted in Reviews

International Adoption Trends

leave a comment »

From NYTimes op-ed.  Additional reporting from the AP.


Written by furthermusings

December 29, 2012 at 9:31 am

Posted in Politics

DPP Day 22: Greg Refracted

leave a comment »


Written by furthermusings

December 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Around Town, Church

DPP Day 19: Finals

leave a comment »

Here’s the reason I’m a couple of days behind in posting.  Seems to happen every year…


Written by furthermusings

December 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Posted in On the Job, Pictures

DPP Day 14: Gloves

leave a comment »

On Thursday afternoon she left them on top of the car as we went in for a meeting (see guilty look below).  On Friday she lost one of them coming back from another meeting.


You might recall that she lost the same glove twice last year.   I’m beginning to think we should just keep the odd gloves and then after a year or two we’re bound to have a left and a right, even if they are mismatched 🙂

Gloves and nalgenes… cars and airports.  Strange!

Written by furthermusings

December 16, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Pictures

From Persuasion

leave a comment »

“He shewed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry; and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely, and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly. ”

Jane Austen, Persuasion, Vol 1, Chapter XI.


Written by furthermusings

December 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Reflections, Reviews

DPP Day 13: The Old Man in the Clock

leave a comment »

IMAG0293Over the last two weeks our department has run two searches.  We’ve put the candidates up in a swanky local club (tie required to visit.  The leather covered doors and deep wood paneling a beautiful.  My favorite detail is the paneling on this grandfather clock.  Anyone still shopping for my Christmas gift?

Written by furthermusings

December 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Pictures