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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 (127 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 (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 145,629 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
55 of 56 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not much hope, but maybe just enough 22 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I must confess I picked this book up with some trepidation. The subtitle - "Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum" - and the cover (of my copy), a young boy sprinting up steps into bright sunlight, made me think it might be another of those. You know, those. The post-Slumdog reportage. "Yes, conditions in Indian slums are appalling. But wait! Look at the way the children run and play! The sights, the smells! The way they can still laugh, in the face of such hardship. The way they just get on with the life they've got!" (What else are they supposed to do?) "So life-affirming!"
The hope of it all!
"Slumdog" is a good film. And a lot of the reportage is also good, and if it's not it's generally well-meaning. But I find it all a bit discomfiting. It's human to believe in hope, but it seems to me that, as Westerners, focussing on the small hopes that slum-dwellers have might be a convenient way of deflecting our own guilt that people have to live this way. (And the likes of Amitabh Bachchan castigating "Slumdog" for focussing on a small part of Indian life might be an Indian way of doing the same thing).
I thought this book might be more of the same. It wasn't.
Boo is no polemicist. She's a true journalist, and she tells this story with a journalistic dispassion, making it all the more affecting. (She has a novelist's eye, though; at times, the prose is breathtaking.) The stories are set in a small slum, rather than one of the giant cities-within-a-city like Dharavi; a wise choice, as she manages to paint a picture of a whole community, almost like a small village. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, and at times it's downright confusing. But even this makes sense. After all, urban India is a confusing place, teeming with people.
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48 of 50 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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33 of 36 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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17 of 19 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing and Informative Read
An amazing book! I was unable to put it down. Yes, it is very very sad and depressing and I am sad that some reviewers found it 'boring' and were full of criticism. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Jeanette Levin
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
a really good book showing what its really like in the slums
Published 1 month ago by Zoe Strassen
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable and remorseless portrait of contemporary life in a Mumbai...
This is a remarkable and remorseless portrait of contemporary life in a Mumbai slum told from the perspective of several true-life families - based upon 4 years of 'on location'... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Pelagius
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
a good read
Published 1 month ago by Amy Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply-researched indictment of social injustice and corruption in...
This very impressive book contains an Author’s Note, at the end, which would repay reading before starting the story of the inhabitants of the Annawardi slum, established in 1991... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dr R
5.0 out of 5 stars stunning piece of journalism
This review is general in nature and does not discuss specific events with in the book. Therefore I believe it may be considered spoiler-free. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Emily Coyte
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Not exactly exciting but definitely fascinating, a book that draws you into peoples lives and makes you want to be there for them. Makes you hurt with them and laugh with them. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jayne Thomas
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
This book failed to take my attention at the start and being rather impatient of a good read I binned it fairly early on. I would not recommend this book.
Published 3 months ago by joyz
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrific in its absolute accuracy
Having spent plenty time in India I am always I infuriated by the corruption. This book puts my fury in perspective. How much worse would it be if I couldn't afford to pay. Read more
Published 3 months ago by reb
5.0 out of 5 stars On my list of best books read in 2014
Based on truth about life in one of Mumbai's slums that borders Mumbai's sumptuous new airport and the Hyatt Hotel, this book is humbling. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sue Roebuck
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