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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 (751 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Kristen Keirsey Atlanta, GA, US 05-21-12
    Kristen Keirsey Atlanta, GA, US 05-21-12 Member Since 2013
    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 2013

    LSR

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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 2012

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

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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
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 11-02-13
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 11-02-13 Member Since 2006

    malfi

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    "Familiar Ground"

    I almost feel guilty giving this book only three and a half stars. Almost. It has been much honored with awards and much praised by reviewers both professional and non-professional, and its subject matter--the hard life of the poor living in one of Mumbai's airport slums--is certainly something of which the world should take more note. But for a number of reasons, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, while a worthy enough book, did not quite live up to my expectations.

    The first reason has more, perhaps, to do with me than with Boo's book. I have a great interest in India, it's history and culture. I have read so many books, both fiction and nonfiction, and seen so many documentaries on the subject that I didn't find much here that was new or surprising. Police and government corruption of all kinds; families killing sick or unwanted members; children digging through garbage in search of something to eat or to sell; supposedly 'free' clinics and doctors demanding bribes in return for treatment; neighbors stealing from and turning on one another; young women committing suicide rather than being forced into marriage or, once married, being burned to death in kitchen 'accidents'; children working at jobs we cannot imagine. It's awful, it's brutal. But it's the stuff on which a cadre of works about India are based, at least in part: City of Joy, Q & A (aka Slumdog Millionaire, A Fine Balance, The Death of Vishnu, documentaries like 'Born into Brothels' and National Geographic's 'The Real Slumdogs' and more.

    That's not to say that we shouldn't care; but it gets frustrating to read about these problems over and over without knowing what exactly one can do about them. Eighty years ago, it was easy to blame all the corruption and poverty and prejudice on the usurping British; once they were gone, the Hindus blamed it on the Muslims, the Muslims blamed the Hindus, and the Sikhs, Christians, and others got caught in the crossfire. So who or what is to blame today, in an increasingly wealthy India, and how can the ongoing problems of unbelievable poverty be solved? As another LT reviewer points out, Boo seems to want us to do something--but what? In the end, she wants us to be uplifted by the undaunted hope of some of Anawadi's young inhabitants. But it's hard to imagine that hope being sustained in a world where the police beat innocent children wrongfully accused of crimes and take bribes to stop the beatings; where a father pours a pot of boiling lentils on a sick child for whom he can't afford medical treatment; where a woman lights herself on fire, hoping to survive and blame it on her neighbors in hope of both petty revenge and financial restitution; where a boy drinks rat poison because he believes his future holds nothing but either being killed by gang members who know that he witnessed a murder or being beaten to death by the police who questioned him about that murder and covered it up; where a woman starts an organization to make small business loans to other poor women, then takes the funds to buy herself jewelry.

    To some extent, I felt that Boo was piling on the horrors so thickly that it was difficult to stay focused on the main individuals whose stories she was telling. At other times, the stories were so familiar that I felt I was reading fiction. The narrative jumps around quite a bit, from character to character and back and forth in time, and with the large number of persons involved, it is easy to get lost and blur them all together. And that also makes it hard to stay focused on or empathize strongly with any one character. This is a problem, because what, I think, Boo hopes to achieve is to put a face on each of the suffering poor, not to lump them into the anonymous 'teeming masses'.

    So overall, would I recommend this book? Despite the comments above, yes, perhaps especially to those who haven't read, seen or heard much about the lives of India's slum dwellers. It's hard for Americans and others in more generally prosperous countries to imagine their world, but knowing about it does make one grateful for what we have.

    And leaves us wishing we knew what we could do to help them to help themselves.

    2 of 3 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.

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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 Member Since 2015
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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
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    "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 2012
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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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