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)
Katherine Boo's book is a good antidote for Gregory David Roberts' Shantaran. Whereas Shantaram appears to view its Mumbai slum through some type of fantasy haze that is ultimately used to glorify its author, Boo's Mumbai slum is stark, unadorned, and filled with people who are barely surviving (or in many cases, not surviving). At times, I felt like a car driver who has been mesmerized by an accident on the side of the road - at other times I simply felt sad and wondered what drew me to this story. For me, this book represents another important facet of India - the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, poverty, corruption, and misery - that needs to be appreciated along with all of the other literary efforts to portray India. Although this is a grim story, it also highlights the grit, ingenuity, and perseverance of people who live on the edge.
The transporting sense that you are there, in Annawadi, seeing the characters and their stories unfold -- thanks to the absolutely stunning research, magnificent writing and the gentle but commanding voice of the reader.
The opportunity to understand life at its most desperate through the eyes of the people living it, and to discover their humanity, intelligence, drive and even the wit (in some cases, particularly the wit) that carry them through the awful trials of the undercity.
This was my first Audible book. I hadn't listened to a book on tape or on CD--ever. I bought this one because I had purchased the hardback book, and had read about a third of it and couldn't bear to stop. I had a 4-hour drive coming up and it occurred to me that I could continue
While Behind the Beautiful Forevers describes in specific detail life in a makeshift community neighboring the Mumbai India international airport, it explains what poverty looks like, feels like and how it shapes the lives of millions who live without any basic resources, including shelter, water and sanitation, throughout the world. Anyone living in, or are a policy maker in, a first world country should read this book if he or she wants to understand the privileges they take for granted.
Yes. I enjoyed this book tremendously. It is a fascinating bird's eye view into a world most of us will never see. I loved the narrator's voice and the voices he used for each of the various characters. The author is so gifted and her characterizations of each person are so tenderly drawn and engaging. I couldn't put the book down. If you liked the movie Slum Dog Millionaire, I think you will love this story too.
Super sad story, enlivened by solid narration. Difficult to hear how the largest democracy on the planet also includes human tragedy almost beyond comprehension.
The description of Sunil ingratiating himself to the (catering?) security guards to gain preferred access to their trash.
Survival with globalization.
I emigrated from India to the US over 30 years ago. I'm planning to return there for good soon. I had to authenticate the author's references and listen to her interviews on NPR and PBS to verify her claims. I intend to use this work to frame my home country since I've never known it in this manner!
This story is real, or very close to real. Descriptions of the lives of people in Annawadi were written in great, believable detail. In one way, the story makes you acknowledge just how much you have and how fortunate you are. In another way, it makes you feel inferior, of the amount of awareness and perseverance that the people in Annawadi have despite corruption, greed, and the weight of the caste system. This is a must read.
A great fan of stories and audiobooks. Good ones.
The stories were real, and factual, I believe. Liked the least.... the presentation.
The dull, flat monotone was a distraction that even the wonderful tales and brilliant descriptions could not overcome. This would have been a better book to read, rather than listen to, only because the narrator, although he was without flaws in his reading, could not impart any drama or emotion. I feel the author might have done better had she narrated the book herself. She lived it, she should of told it.
It is a great day by day account of life in the slum, but there was little chance for the listener to get emotionally attached to the characters. I found myself falling asleep and not knowing where I left off many times. Great content but rather boring, and without some major re-writes is not movie potential. Out of respect for the author I would go see it, but I would suspect it would be vastly different as a screen play.
Thank you to the author for her strong commitment to fact and realism.
I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.
I'm probably going against the swelling tide of accolades for this book but I was somewhat disappointed. Although the writing was excellent, the book began to drag in the second half. The characters were well drawn and, considering it is a non-fiction book, were very compelling. The problem for me is the subject matter. How much pain about the reality of the human poverty condition can anyone take? The fact that the main characters had drawn the deuce of diamonds in the genetic lottery was so clearly drawn and portrayed by the author that it began to grate on my patience. It would be like reading a book about sado-masochism; how many stories do I have to read before I get the point that some people are mean and horrible. Although I appreciate what Katherine Boo has done, has she really revealed anything that I didn't know before? Life is unfair. Corruption is everywhere. There is no hope for a better life for 80% of the world. The book really just confirmed what I already knew: people can adapt to any condition, even filthy, disgusting places like Indian slums. Did it really require three years of intensive research, 3,000 documents and thousands of interviews to discover that life is really dreadful for the poor? I appreciate that she didn't make up the stories and actually followed several of the characters from beginning to end but these stories could have just as easily occurred in the slums of Mexico City or Zimbabwe. I guess the contrast of this slum right up against the richness of the hotels was meant to emphasize the poverty. To be truthful, I thought "The White Tiger" was head and shoulders above this book for revealing the heart and soul of the Indian personality. In that book, the author, although in a humorous, cynical method, demonstrates why the average or impoverished Indian is stuck in his or her position in life. One of the best concepts that I don't believe Mrs. Boo intended was the repudiation of the "Trickle down" theory of economics. As India gets richer, it is only the top 1% who benefit. The rest of the Country still only gets water twice a day. (For those interested, read "The Big Thirst" to see how backward one of the "richest" countries of the world is. The best part of the book was a renewed appreciation for how wonderful my life is and how lucky I am to live in the United States with all its problems.
I wouldn't call reading this book "enjoyable" in the sense of a happy book, or even a good sad fictionalized account; these are real people dealing with real poverty. But it was written in such a way that you could see the huts and taste the dust and feel like you knew the people who lived in these pages.
His narration is understated and well-suited to the book's subject matter.
This is a well-written narrative about 5 people living in one of India's slums - their hopes, dreams, successes, and failures. A comment was made that no one in the book asked if they were happy; survival took on too much time for them to worry about happiness.
The author's epilogue added an extra personal adendum to these pages. Well done!
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