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)
I am a member of a book club. I sometimes forget why I belong to it because I really like my vampire books. This book is the reason. I would not have read this book if it did not show up on the monthly list. It tell a true story of life in India. The characters are real. You feel for their plight. You hope for them. It is a travesty they live like they do. I now have a better understanding of a place I will never visit. I wish at the end of the book there was a suggestion of how to help or what would help this society as a whole.
Boos ability to edit and weave a coherent, compelling story out of realities she encountered is a laudable feat. That the stories were not invented is nearly devastating; that hope survives in such a situation is encouraging and heartbreaking.
This audiobook offers an extraordinary reading experience!
The images, characters and language of a slum in Mumbai are brilliantly captured by a journalist at the top of her game.
The actor's facility with accents and language and different voices clarified the listening experience and actually enhanced a great book.
This story offers an entirely new perspective to someone who is unfamiliar with India, or desperate, soul killing poverty for that matter. It is terribly sad on one level, but written and read with so much life and power it becomes electrifying, as compelling as a novel.
I had hopes to embrace the human condition and my capacity, but try as I might, I just couldn't bring myself to finish the book. I struggled with this because I work in the field of addictions and see tragedy often enough. But there is no hope other than a bleak existence. It was so depressing.
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.
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