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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity | [Katherine Boo]

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption.
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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2012

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the 21st century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the 21st century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.

©2012 Katherine Boo (P)2012 Random House

What the Critics Say

“Kate Boo’s reporting is a form of kinship. Abdul and Manju and Kalu of Annawadi will not be forgotten. She leads us through their unknown world, her gift of language rising up like a delicate string of necessary lights. There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that.” (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family)

“I couldn’t put Behind the Beautiful Forevers down even when I wanted to—when the misery, abuse and filth that Boo so elegantly and understatedly describes became almost overwhelming. Her book, situated in a slum on the edge of Mumbai’s international airport, is one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I’ve ever read. If Bollywood ever decides to do its own version of The Wire, this would be it.” (Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed)

“A beautiful account, told through real-life stories, of the sorrows and joys, the anxieties and stamina, in the lives of the precarious and powerless in urban India whom a booming country has failed to absorb and integrate. A brilliant book that simultaneously informs, agitates, angers, inspires, and instigates.” (Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, winner of the Nobel Prize in Econo)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (722 )
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4.2 (618 )
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Kathy 06-04-12
    Kathy 06-04-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "See What Life is Like in the Slums of Mumbai"
    Would you try another book from Katherine Boo and/or Sunil Malhotra?

    Probably not at this time.


    Did Sunil Malhotra do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    Excellent job!


    Do you think Behind the Beautiful Forevers needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    If you want to learn about a realistic view of life in the slums of Mumbai, then this selection is for you --- a true and well-researched account of the lives of those living there. Listen to this Audible selection knowing that this is not a funny feel-good type of tome, but you will definitely appreciate the life you have after finishing it! Imagine what you would do to survive a life filled with oppression, hunger, corruption and desperation!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristen Keirsey Atlanta, GA, US 05-21-12
    Kristen Keirsey Atlanta, GA, US 05-21-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enter a Different World"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers to be better than the print version?

    I didn't read the print version but the narrator does make this settlement on the edge (in so many ways) come alive.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Behind the Beautiful Forevers?

    When a character reaches such a level of despair that setting themselves on fire seems like a solution.


    Any additional comments?

    Katherine Boo has done an amazing job of depicting a world so different than mine and yet the people are almost recognizable types trying their best to succeed where all the odds are against them. She documents day to day life in circumstances that seem almost impossible to survive and yet the people do and keep on striving for something better. It does make me realize where I was born is such a gift.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LSR Atlanta 04-02-12
    LSR Atlanta 04-02-12 Member Since 2006

    LSR

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Beautiful Story"

    This was such a gripping account, I had to keep checking references to ensure that it was not fiction, or even based on a real story. The book is told in the third-person but such deep observations and presence that you even feel like you are right there, and the author must have been onsite more frequently than not, over the years. It was such a fascinating way of life to be told. Surprisingly, I did not have pity or disgust for the poverty and the way the families live in this common slum but, just the opposite. Most of the studied characters I could see rising upward, at least relatively speaking. They were enterprising, tireless, tried to pursue their education and advancement. It was really a fascinating study which made me wonder if this was really a necessary step in the evolution of developing countries and their people.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fred LAKE OSWEGO, OR, United States 02-14-12
    fred LAKE OSWEGO, OR, United States 02-14-12 Member Since 2010

    I'm Trying to see the world with my ears.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "is a very jarring book about life in Annawadi"

    Behind the Beautiful Forever" is a very jarring book about life in Annawadi, a slum located near the Mumbai airport, just steps away from luxury Indian hotels. This true story chronicles the lives of multiple Annawadi residents who struggle to survive and pray to get ahead in this god-awful community.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elaine 09-11-14
    Elaine 09-11-14

    I'm a country potter, gardener, flute player and tin tinker living with my husband, an electrical engineer & cabinet maker.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Hard to think about, painful to have in the world"

    I've spent some time in India, China, Peru, Cambodia where pockets of poverty are more than a few blocks long. Poor areas are as different from one another as wealthy areas might be but they all have roots of corruption that intertwine and feed the systems, perpetuating the problems and delaying the solutions. This book is difficult to listen to when one engages the mind in a what if this was me situation.
    It is well written and well performed. The situations are ones we should all be aware of.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donald Stratford, PE, Canada 05-25-14
    Donald Stratford, PE, Canada 05-25-14 Member Since 2002

    stephens1414

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    "Litany of horrors"

    Well written with convincing characterization of people and place.
    My complaint is that the constant emphasis is on the horrors of life for these people.
    The unjustness is noted in seemingly ever aspect of life.
    Yes we who live in so much better conditions need to know but there is too much of
    the "Behind" and not enough of the "Beautiful Forevers".
    More subtlety or write a sociological essay.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan River Forest, IL, United States 03-15-14
    Susan River Forest, IL, United States 03-15-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Another time"
    What disappointed you about Behind the Beautiful Forevers?

    Nothing. Powerful. Will read at a different time.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    Didnt finish the book


    What three words best describe Sunil Malhotra’s voice?

    Didn't start the book


    What character would you cut from Behind the Beautiful Forevers?

    Not sure


    Any additional comments?

    None

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian North Las Vegas, NV, United States 02-04-14
    Brian North Las Vegas, NV, United States 02-04-14
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    "Standard good book"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    I felt this was a standard good book, good read/listen. I have actually been to Mumbai and the slums so I feel that enhanced the listening experience. Good story though, hopefully it brings some attention to an often forgotten/overlooked demographic in India.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin 12-27-13
    Robin 12-27-13
    ratings
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    1
    1
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    Story
    "Hated it. Finally gave up."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    This book has no plot that carries through the book - or at least not a strong enough one to sustain a storyline. There is a plethora of exceedingly depressing characters with few, if any, redeeming characteristics. Life is too short for this type of book for me.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    The Goldfinch


    Which character – as performed by Sunil Malhotra – was your favorite?

    Honestly, I couldn't keep anyone straight - that was part of the problem.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Behind the Beautiful Forevers?

    The book jumps in time, which further adds to the confusion for the reader. I don't even know where to begin.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anna Karenina Dallas, TX, United States 12-05-13
    Anna Karenina Dallas, TX, United States 12-05-13 Member Since 2005
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    "Absolutely awesome"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. The book is incredibly enlightening as well as engrossing.


    What other book might you compare Behind the Beautiful Forevers to and why?

    A Fine Balance, the novel by Rohinton Mistry. Only this is all real.


    Have you listened to any of Sunil Malhotra’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I haven't listen to any other, but he's fantastic on this audiobook.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    There are no "tidbits"--everything is important! The most eye-opening parts of the book are about corruption, which is ubiquitous.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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