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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity Paperback – Large Print, 26 Feb 2013


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Product details

  • Paperback: 419 pages
  • Publisher: Large Print Press; Lrg Rep edition (26 Feb 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594136181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594136184
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 875,811 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Must read. Katherine Boo “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”. A Mumbai slum understood and imagined as never before in language of intense beauty.” (Salman Rushdie)

“The even-handedness that stems from Katherine Boo’s natural and abundant empathy is one of the many appeals of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, her gorgeous book on one of Mumbai’s slums, Annawadi…The book contains a particularly important message for those who have monopolised the ear of the Indian government’s key leaders, and who place their hopes for the poor in financial handouts and empowerment through legal rights.” (Business Standard)

“The words of Boo and the inhabitants of Annawadi rushed through me like a river, cracking open thoughts of how hard this work is, my anger at those who demand simple solutions and expect easy returns; yet, at the sametime, pushing me more urgently to find voice, to speak truth when it hurts. For all of this, I am grateful to the author for her courage, persistence, and openness.” (The Huffington Post)

“Riveting…[A] stunning piece of narrative nonfiction; it not only reports on some of the world’s poorest people and their dizzying resourcefulness and criminality but portrays them in all their humanity.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)

“[An] exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. …. Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted.” (The New York Times)

“The book plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel….Boo gives even the broadest themes (the collateral damage of globalization, say) a human face. And there are half a dozen characters here so indelible — so swept up in impossible dreams and schemes — that they call Dickens and Austen to mind.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“This is an astonishing book. It is astonishing on several levels: as a worm’s-eye view of the “undercity” of one of the world’s largest metropolises; as an intensely reported, deeply felt account of the lives, hopes and fears of people traditionally excluded from literate narratives; as a story that truly hasn’t been told before, at least not about India and not by a foreigner. But most of all, it is astonishing that it exists at all…. a searing account, in effective and racy prose, that reads like a thrilling novel but packs a punch Sinclair Lewis might have envied.” (The Washington Post) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Barry Bootle on 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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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By DF on 24 Mar 2012
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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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By gerrypopplestone on 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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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Frank on 16 April 2012
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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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 Feb 2012
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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