Stories of poverty in India: An ethnographer reviews Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by Erica Bornstein

Read Article

By Erica BornsteinFull

Katherine Boo's work of literary nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is an insightful and tragic account of poverty in India. In this essay, I compare Boo's book with two books published in the same year, Akhil Gupta's ethnography Red Tape and Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis, a fictional account, to analyze representations of the poor and marginalized in an economically liberalized and rapidly growing India. While ethnography possesses the explanatory power of social theory, fiction and literary nonfiction relish the tragic consequences of social life that make for good stories.