Travel Dispatches From a Hidden Mumbai

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  01.23.13 | 8:44 AM ET

I’ve been working my way through Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo’s much-lauded book about life in a precarious Mumbai slum. It’s an incredible work of reporting, and beautifully written too: The book tells the story of a group of families in Annawadi, a semi-legal settlement whose economy revolves around recyclable garbage.

It’s not what most people would call travel writing—Boo is absent from the story, which reads like a novel with an omniscient narrator—but as I read it, I’ve been thinking about how it might fit into the genre. It’s drawing me into a part of the world I’ve never visited, and likely never will; it’s teaching me about lives led on the other side of the world, lives that are both wildly divergent, and yet not so different, from my own. Isn’t that one of the tasks of great travel writing?

Interestingly enough, Annawadi is located right next to the Mumbai airport, which means its dramas have unfolded under the noses of every tourist and travel writer who’s ever visited the city.

NPR has a short excerpt.