Featured post

Buy All Quiet on the Home Front here.

Buy All Quiet on the Home Front from ICVL STUDIO. It is also available now at the wonderful  Tipi Bookshop in Belgium. And soon at ...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Katherine Boo and the Snapshot Slum



I loved reading Katherine Boo's Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, her strangely fictionalised story of life, death, corruption and the struggle to survive in a Mumbai slum.

At the back of the book, she sums up the problem with photography. "I quickly grew impatient with poignant snapshots of Indian squalor; the ribby children with flies in their eyes and other emblems of abjectness that one can't help but see within five minutes of walking into a slum. For me... the more important line of inquiry is something that takes longer to discern."

Boo spent four years in her slum. "To me, becoming attached to a country involves pressing uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for its least powerful citizens... I thought it would be useful to follow the inhabitants of a single, exceptional slum over the course of several years to see who got ahead and who didn't, and why, as India prospered. There being no way around the not-being-Indian business, I tried to compensate for my limitations the same way I do in unfamiliar American territory: by time spent, attention paid, documentation secured, accounts cross-checked."

The work shows. It's not an Indian book, but the research from the  "...written notes, video recordings, audiotapes, and photographs" make for a compelling book. And I think the hard work was far, far harder than Boo is letting on.

And the cover. A snapshot of course. Slumdog Millionaire snapshot! 




2 comments:

rajiv said...

Hi Colin,

A while back a journalist friend recommended Katherine Boo's book and another by a young Indian journalist, Aman Sethi, titled `A Free Man'. He felt he connected better with the latter's work.

While I haven't yet read `Behind the Beautiful Forevers' I did read Aman Sethi's book and it is quite a stunning achievement.

It might be something you might find interesting :-).

colin pantall said...

Thanks Rajiv - I'll check it out. Boo recognises her limitations ( she's not Indian), and then hammers the research to overcome it. It's a work in translation though, but a really good one. I know what you mean about connection - it's incredibly readable but is more like a novel than non-fiction. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing though.