It should be obvious that anyone—rich or poor—is more than the sum of his or her circumstances, that any life could be worth writing about. But apparently it’s not. This seems to me the sign of an even larger (if related) problem: an enormous collective failure of reading and imagination. As we march forward into the world of instant connection and somewhat out of the world of quiet reflection, books retain a certain crucial advantage: the opportunity to enter someone else’s mind in a way that feels intimate and real. I have long thought of this as the special province of fictional narrative, but with Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Boo shows that the right reporter can open that most human door. 

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V.V. Ganeshananthan , a journalist and fiction writer, teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan. She is a former vice president of the South Asian Journalists Association and a founding member of Lanka Solidarity. Her debut novel, Love Marriage (Random House, 2008), is set in Sri Lanka and its diaspora, and was named one of Washington Post Book World's Best of 2008.