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
“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)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is certainly one of the best books I have ever listened to. The stories of the individuals are completely engrossing. But what makes the book so compelling, and so valuable, is the context in which the stories take place. You will not look at the global economy or India itself in quite the same way after this book. In particular there is a new understanding of, and perhaps tolerance (perhaps frustration) of the official corruption which exists in India.
The book is not uplifting, and in many instances is depressing. However the ironic humor of the author and the wry observations of her and the characters make it very enjoyable. The reading is outstanding and contributes substantially to the enjoyment of the audiobook.
It most reminds me of some of the Indian tragedies, like A Fine Balance by Mistry.
It takes you to another country. You feel as if you know the characters.
The slum dwellers really become persons of interest to you. They are three-dimensional human beings you care about. And when they suffer, you actually feel for them. The author is quite exceptional in transporting her readers to Mumbai in the 1990s.
No difficulty with names, places, etc.
Micro-economies and the price of global capitalism in the developing world.
No, I recommend the audiobook to all my friends. I have not actually read the book but heard about it from a friend. Then, I listened to it, and I was really captivated. It's marvelous!
This is a very listenable hybrid of actual events and people with the narrative voice of a novel. I truly couldn't turn it off once I'd started.
Two things - 1) understand that it needs realism but it was all disaster, corruption and struggle all the way through. Would have really liked a little "hope" thrown in there too. 2) Would have liked a stronger story thread - chopping and changing between so many characters constantly left me a little lost, especially when listening in small chunks.
Great voices, accents, gave atmosphere and realism to the story.
Amazing story & storytelling. The cast of characters in this book is so well-conveyed, and the writing is so good that it is easy to forget that this is a true story. Which makes it all the more incredible. Narration is well-done. Overall a good listen.
It is easy to forget that one is reading a work of nonfiction with Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. Katherine Boo's writing is so vivid, her storytelling so precise, her insights eerily telephathic, or so it seems, that one gets quickly enveloped into this story of the ruthless struggle for life, death — and brief, aching glimpses of a better life — that these slum residents endure day after day. I am amazed by this book, by Boo, by her three years living in the slum, and by the horrors she depicts of those who are among the poorest in our unjust and inequitable world.
Boo is a Pulitzer prize winner and I’ve had pretty luck with them (Ava’s Man, The Bridge at San Luis Rey.) She shows us the daily lives of the residents of Anawadi, a slum hard by glitzy Mumbai International Airport and a sewage lake.
This tale is relentlessly grim. The characters live in degradation which the poorest resident of the USA would find intolerable (the sewage lake being the prime example). Several of the residents are enterprising and amazingly hard-working. Abdul, a young Muslim trash dealer and sometime protag, spends endless hours at the soul-crushingly tedious work of sorting garbage for resale to recyclers. He is incarcerated and beaten for a killing that the authorities know was a suicide. Every person of authority who becomes involved in the case, be it doctor, coroner, police officer or other, is motivated solely by the desire to extract the maximum bribe possible from the family. This is far from the only tragedy/travesty of the book.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator as in fiction. How was the reporting done? Was Boo really listening to every conversation she relates? Her tale is fascinating and reading quite competent. Finally, though, I couldn’t take any more. In the last year or so I’ve visited the U.S. Great Depression (A Secret Gift), famine in China (The Good Earth), and general misery in North Korea (Nothing to Envy). In the U.S. the misery was lightened by generosity and shared suffering; in China by shared suffering, initiative and the passage of time; and in North Korea maybe not at all. In Forevers the poverty is bad enough but it floats in a sewage lake of brutality and corruption. I may just have hit poverty fatigue. I bailed about 2/3 of the way through.
no, the story went no where. so sad and horrible
no, I tried finishing but couldn't
I loved this book and when I listened to the author's summary of her experience writing the story I was astonished. Her words away from the story have me returning to contemplate situations that were presented to each character and the living situation they had to endure.
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