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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum [Paperback]

Katherine Boo
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Jun 2012
Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2012.

Annawadi is a slum at the edge of Mumbai Airport, in the shadow of shining new luxury hotels. Its residents are garbage recyclers, construction workers and economic migrants, all of them living in the hope that a small part of India's booming future will eventually be theirs. But when a crime rocks the slum community and global recession and terrorism shocks the city, tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy begin to turn brutal. As Boo gets to know those who dwell at Mumbai's margins, she evokes an extraordinarily vivid and vigorous group of individuals flourishing against the odds amid the complications, corruptions and gross inequalities of the new India.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (7 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846274494
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846274497
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 50,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

A bravura work of non-fiction that goes beyond clichéd, patronising depictions of poverty to raise uncomfortable questions about justice and opportunity for India s urban poor in the age of global market capitalism ... Thanks to the transcendent quality of Boo s prose, this sumpy plug of slum springs to life with all the drama and vividness of great fiction ... Boo s great achievement is to have overcome barriers of language, culture and ethnicity to get inside the minds of her subjects to decode their innermost thoughts. And because she has written about the everyday experiences of real people, using real names, we get to rub our noses in the dirt of Annawadi, see the world through their eyes --Financial Times

Katherine Boo has prised open the world of people on the lowest echelon of Indian society ... The picture that emerges of the exploitation of the weak by the less weak is so astonishing in its detail, crosshatching and depth that one s first reaction is disbelief followed by stunned silence ... Boo takes us into the very engine room of the undercity and shines a light on each of the cogs and ratchets, its unique catenation of cause and effect, its dynamics and webbed dependencies ... Before prescription there should be knowledge: Boo s book provides the adamantine, unignorable, truthful kind. And yet all this never descends into horrorism. Boo is unsentimental, unjudgmental, uncondescending, yet brimful of compassion brought by what I can only call fellowship or a kind of commonality with her subjects --The Times

An extraordinary, intimate and gripping book, which it is no exaggeration to describe as a milestone in writing about poverty, and already one of this year s most memorable reads ... Boo s seamlessly structured narrative allows these stories to unfold alongside the personal dramas of the characters. Her tone is admirably restrained, and never patronising or mawkish ... The close focus of Behind the Beautiful Forevers is what gives it its clarity, and makes it so affecting -- --Evening Standard

--Evening Standard

Katherine Boo has prised open the world of people on the lowest echelon of Indian society ... The picture that emerges of the exploitation of the weak by the less weak is so astonishing in its detail, crosshatching and depth that one s first reaction is disbelief followed by stunned silence ... Boo takes us into the very engine room of the undercity and shines a light on each of the cogs and ratchets, its unique catenation of cause and effect, its dynamics and webbed dependencies ... Before prescription there should be knowledge: Boo s book provides the adamantine, unignorable, truthful kind. And yet all this never descends into horrorism. Boo is unsentimental, unjudgmental, uncondescending, yet brimful of compassion brought by what I can only call fellowship or a kind of commonality with her subjects --The Times

An extraordinary, intimate and gripping book, which it is no exaggeration to describe as a milestone in writing about poverty, and already one of this year s most memorable reads ... Boo s seamlessly structured narrative allows these stories to unfold alongside the personal dramas of the characters. Her tone is admirably restrained, and never patronising or mawkish ... The close focus of Behind the Beautiful Forevers is what gives it its clarity, and makes it so affecting --Evening Standard

About the Author

Katherine Boo is an investigative journalist focusing on matters of poverty and opportunity. A staff writer at the New Yorker magazine since 2001, she was previously a writer and editor at the Washington Post. Among the honours her work has received are a MacArthur Foundation 'Genius' Grant, a National Magazine Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. She is married to Sunil Khilnani, political historian and director of the King's India Institute in London. This is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, eye-opening and yet depressing.... 24 Mar 2012
By DF
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I work in IT in a large corporation and like many others we have moved a significant proportion of our software development to India. I have visited a few times over the last few years and have been impressed by the individuals I have worked with there. However, what I also noticed as I was driven between hotels, offices and the airport was a the widespread poverty and slums, particularly in Mumbai. Thus, when I read a review of this book in The Economist, I was very keen to learn more.

First of all the quality and style of the writing is second to none. The book is written in excellent, flowing prose and reads like a good novel. It is captivating and at times amusing. I got through it in about four sittings - as I found it hard to put it down. However, it also covers a topic that is both eye-opening and depressing. The corruption, the apparent hopelessness, the low value given to live are all quite sad to read.

If you're curious to learn more about the poor in Mumbai, then you should read this book. Maybe you should read it anyway? Katherine Boo deserves more prizes for this book and the work and research that went into it.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great analysis of a Mumbai shanty town. 12 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not sociology, nor is it psychology. But Katherine Boo gives a telling and unsentimental analysis of how people manage to survive in situations when they have so few options. There are no angels here, nor are there villains. People with so little learn to give and rely on the support of others, although often they also have to tread on their neighbours toes merely to get by. The writer treats these conflicts and crises with respect. No value judgements. Just beautiful writing.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real insight into India 16 April 2012
By Frank
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is news reporting at its most readable and insightful; it reads like a novel, yet you are assured at the end that all the events recounted are real, as are all the names. How important is it to understand the lives and problems of an Indian slum? I can't answer that; but I can say I have more hope of having an accurate perspective of those problems after reading this book. And despite those problems, its still a good read!

Frank Drake
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is the first book from Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Katherine Boo, a staff writer at "The New Yorker," and former reporter and editor at "The Washington Post." It is a narrative nonfiction that tells the story of several families that live in Annawadi, a small makeshift slum located between the fancy new airport and luxury hotels, and a public toilet and sewage lagoon, in Mumbai (formerly, and better-known as Bombay), a dynamic and fast-growing Indian city.

It is based upon three years of onsite reporting, the author says. "From the day in November 2007 that I wandered into Annawadi until March 2011 when I completed my recording, I documented the experiences of residents with written notes, video recordings, audiotapes and photographs. Several children of the slum, having mastered my Flip video camera, also documented events recounted in this book. I also used more than 3,000 public records, many of them obtained after years of petitioning government agencies under the landmark Right to Information Act."

As India starts to prosper, and wealthier Indians begin to return home from their diaspora around the world, further deepening the gulch of inequality between the city's rich and poor, residents of Annawadi are hopeful. Abdul, a hard-working Muslim teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of high intelligence, deeply scarred from a childhood in rural poverty, believes she has found another route to the middle class: political corruption. She hopes that, with a little man-made luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter Manju, Annawadi's "most-everything girl"will soon become its first female college graduate.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honest picture of dog eat dog slum life 12 July 2012
Format:Paperback
Ever since the movie `Slumdog milllionaire' got its Oscars, people have been asking what the slums of Mumbai are really like. This book provides an answer, all the more powerful because it is not fiction. And yes, extreme poverty is dehumanising, depressing and degrading. Few have the courage this author displays in observing a slum so relentlessly close up.

It is not just the slum-dwellers who prey on each other in order to eke out their perilous existence, everything around them is corrupted. Their hard-earned pennies from scavenging and hawking are not enough to pay medical bills and school fees, but they must also find money to pay off politicians, the judiciary, the police, the NGOs, even the social workers and municipality. Everyone is on the take and on the make. At the bottom of the economic heap everyone is out for what they can get, and no one seems to care who they trample upon to get it. It is the law of the jungle: eat or be eaten.

This is not the only book about Mumbai slums or even the best one but it is timely and it is honest and unsentimental. Unlike faction (fiction based on fact) books such as `Shantaram' it does not have to go beyond reportage and detached description. But this is also a significant weakness of this book which cries out for more analysis and links to the bigger picture. For example, why and how politicians exploit slum dwellers, and how the informal economy meshes in with the larger economy. We deserve some explanation. Is it enough merely to observe? Other books about Mumbai slums (Kalapana Sharma's `Dharavi Revisted' in particular stands out) provide both the description and the insight. Some reviewers appear to find this lack of judgement and analysis refreshing, but for me the absence of it means this book verges on being a print version of `poverty tourism'.
NB The book's title is ridiculous. A less pretentious title would have matched the honesty of the narrative.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing but beautiful
I found this book intriguing, I believed that I could be reading a novel! However, truth is stranger than fiction.
Published 9 days ago by Alison Cotter-Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling
An absolutely incredible read; a deep-dive into the Mumbai underbelly of corruption, slums, and how incredibly lucky most of us are, in that even when our life feels the least... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Photocritic.org
5.0 out of 5 stars Up in my top ten favourite books
One of the best books I've read for a long time. I've recommended it to all my friends and family.
Published 19 days ago by mrs E
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable.
A remarkable read and quite simply the best book that I have read on contemporary India. The book triumphs in its stark and unembellished portrayal of life among India's urban... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Mr. Anuj Ghai
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT WHAT INDIA WANTS YOU TO READ
This book will allow you to see clearly the hopeless condition of the Indian state. Just too many problems.Get the book.
Published 1 month ago by David P Gasslein
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Poignant, In-depth narrative that brings to life the moral dilemma both of the slum dwellers and of a country and wider global economy that cultivates such poverty. Read more
Published 1 month ago by eleda
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
This book gives an insight to the hardships of living in a Mumbai Slum, some of the characters are an inspiration
Published 1 month ago by Phillipa Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
This is a thoroughly interesting read and gives a great insight into the slums in India. Having lived in India myself I could relate to the incidents and events on every level. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Joy Guha
5.0 out of 5 stars Book group reading
Another book bought for a reading group. It arrived within days of ordering in very good condition, I can also pass this on for others when finished.
Published 2 months ago by Maureen Rae
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking read.
I would have liked to have read the author's comments which appear at the end of the book at the beginning as I found what I thought was a work of fiction strangely punctuated with... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dorella Inward
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