Aug. 14th, 2012

tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Last week a couple of friends and I went to hear New Yorker writer Katherine Boo speak at Sydney Uni about her new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Boo is a white journalist from the US, married to an Indian, who spent four years visiting, observing, interviewing and writing about the residents of a small slum illegally located on the outer edge of the Mumbai international airport. It actually wasn't the most interesting session, given that Boo's 'partner in conversation' was a faculty anthropologist who didn't seem that comfortable in the role and didn't ask any particularly difficult questions, but it did give me the impetus to finally get around to reading the book (which had been languishing on my to-read list for months). The one thing that really piqued my interest in the talk was Boo briefly touching on her decision to minimise her own presence in the narrative, in contrast to the academic approach of explicitly acknowledging the external observer's presence and unpacking its impact on people's responses and behaviours. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is basically a non-fiction book about real people and real events that reads like a well-plotted novel in an intimate third-person POV, and to say I was highly sceptical about the accuracy and appropriateness of this approach would be an understatement.

Hmm, this got long )

Recommended, even if perhaps the safest route is to take the text as a series of broadly representative stories, rather than the actual literal truth of history as happened.

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