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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not much hope, but maybe just enough
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...
Published 21 months ago by Barry Bootle

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Beautiful ForeversThe book was well written
The book although well written was perhaps too long and the style ,written in a rather journalistic manner was not to my taste; I could not sort out the characters enough to follow the overall theme.However I did learn a lot about Life in the Indian slums.
Published on 3 Nov 2012 by Treefor


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not much hope, but maybe just enough, 22 Mar 2013
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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.
Despite the wonderful writing, there were times when I felt I could not go on. When I read about the disease and the filth and children being bitten by rats as they slept. The fungus "like butterfly wings" that grows on feet in the monsoon season. The exploitation and corruption, the abuse of slum-dwellers by the authorities, the abuse of slum children by their own families. The unsolved murders and streets-sweepers left to die on the pavements, the infanticide and the many suicides. And the hope - what there is of it - is almost the worst. That a family, pursued by a rotten judicial system, might not go to prison for a crime they did not commit. That one slum-dweller might, just possibly, scramble over others and into a very slightly less hardscrabble life.
I cried again and again. I became very angry. Occasionally, I laughed out loud. At times I was so scared for the characters that I felt ill with it. And when I had finished, I thought about them all for a long time, and wondered what they are doing now, the ones that survived. Because, of course, there's no story-book ending. Jamal does not win his millions. He doesn't get his Latika. The story might end, but life in the slum staggers and claws and bites and struggles on.
The people of the slum do questionable things - sometimes terrible things - to survive. But I think there is hope. They also do good things. That people forced to live like this could ever be decent, live by any kind of moral code, gives one hope of a sort.
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, eye-opening and yet depressing...., 24 Mar 2012
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars A great analysis of a Mumbai shanty town., 12 Jun 2012
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Real insight into India, 16 April 2012
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking Bravery In Staying Her Self-Assigned Course Through Tough Times, 9 Feb 2012
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Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
"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. Even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, Sunil, and Sonu, teenaged scrap-metal thieves and garbage scavengers, who are addicted to "Erase-X," the Indian equivalent of "White-Out," of which middle-class office workers generally threw out the little bottles before they were finished. hopefully believed themselves getting closer to what they called "the full enjoy."

Then things take a turn for the worse. Abdul and his family are falsely accused of a shocking crime, and find themselves besieged by corrupt government officials at every turn. A global recession impinges on the economy of the city, until recently one of the fastest growing, most wealth-producing in the world. And three Pakistani terrorists attack the city at its heart, killing more than 100 victims, as the corrupt police stay well out of their way. Life in Annawadi gets tougher: some of its residents lose hope.

The book is beautifully written; although its subject matter is sometimes grim, Boo attacks it with intelligence, wit and humor. It's also surprisingly fast-paced, as it shows us the imagination, enterprise and courage of these slum dwellers. Boo's writing and reporting, in addition to winning a Pulitzer, has won a MacArthur "Genius" grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. She has married an Indian, and, for the past decade, divided her time between the United States and India. She has built her career on examining the lives of the world's disadvantaged communities. The MacArthur Foundation said, "[Boo's] extended profiles of individuals struggling at the invisible margins of society open a powerful journalistic window into the obstacles faced by many." Personally, I am somewhat stunned at the authors breathtaking bravery: I don't know how she could have continued in this enterprise, at times when such depressing episodes were occurring. My hat's off to her.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Beautiful ForeversThe book was well written, 3 Nov 2012
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The book although well written was perhaps too long and the style ,written in a rather journalistic manner was not to my taste; I could not sort out the characters enough to follow the overall theme.However I did learn a lot about Life in the Indian slums.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Beautiful Forevers, 13 Nov 2012
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An authentically written book about the appalling life of slum dwellers in Mumbai, cheek by jowl with the nouveau riche of that affluent city. It highlights the indomitable spirit of the poor in India as well as the obscene gulf between them and the increasing numbers of rich Indians, many of whom turn a blind eye to the starving millions around them. It also shows the corruption that is endemic in Indian society and one of its great evils that will probably never be fully eradicated. India is the most amazing country (I was born and brought up there) and its people are, by and large, wonderful but this book brought tears to my eyes at the injustice and cruelty of its social structure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Moving., 16 Sep 2012
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Mary (Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK) - See all my reviews
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I bought this book for my husband - at his request. He enjoyed it very much and said it was the most moving book he had read in ages. It's currently being read by our 21 year old daughter who seems just as touched by it. I am looking forward to my turn.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The poetry of poverty in all its awfulness, 2 Dec 2014
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Having lived in India and witnessed if not lived in the world Katherine Boo describes, I know how right this is and how well told. It is unsentimental, eloquent and heartbreaking. The web of corruption that strangles but also oils life is both shocking and so expected that we and they hardly think twice. It reinforces a sense of hopelessness because it has become a means for survival which in itself will perpetuate its existence: people always fight to survive. I work for an anti-corruption organisation that is trying to break this endemic noose because it is the most vulnerable who suffer the most, as Katherine Boo so clearly and beautifully illustrates.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 4 Jan 2013
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Mrs AG (Winchester, England) - See all my reviews
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The breathless quality of this book is not always entirely grammatical and I found it irritating and distracting. The author writes from the omniscient stand-point of the author of a work of fiction and for me this undermined the impact of her account of a year spent in a Mumbai slum. She constructs out of her observations a narrative which revolves mainly around a false accusation of murder against little Abdul, drawing in many of the characters in the slum. It's a promising device, but why, as a reporter, does she use the phrase "Abdul thought..." (or its equivalent) if she wishes her writing to be an objective account of what she has witnessed? I wondered if perhaps she isn't a very experienced writer but when I turned to the author note at the back it's clear she can indeed write perfectly coherently.
The settlement originated with Tamil workers brought in to build the airport but who in turn were driven out by migrants from villages elsewhere. Life is nasty, brutish and short - both men and women are exhausted by scratching a living scavenging and selling on scraps of various kinds of rubbish. Occasionally the quick-witted manage to scramble a little higher up the social ladder but at any moment meagre savings can be lost in flood or fire, to the all-powerful police, or paying for basic treatment in a fourth-rate hospital where patient statistics are fudged.
There is NO security. If you are desperately poor, the implication is that it must somehow be your fault. It's a desperate scrabble for a toehold on life, where even the police and the doctors aren't paid enough, and so corruption becomes entrenched in the system. In such a world a man cannot be good even if he wants to be, says Abdul, who for a brief time was inspired by an enigmatic man - the Master - who was allowed into the prison Abdul found himself at one point.
Nevertheless, the content IS powerful, and depressing in the extreme. It's a world of "dog eat dog", of extreme social Darwinism where the strong and ruthless (top of the pile are the police) hold all the cards and where there is no social welfare system except that of the family, not always in a position to save its members.
Although I disliked the way it was written, one cannot doubt its ultimate truths about the Indian poor. It's a glimpse into the future of a society where the "haves" have shrugged off any responsibility for the "have-nots", where corruption is rife and child labour laws are ignored. The nearest thing we have to it in our history is the London of Charles Dickens. It's the "freedom" of the individual to which our current government aspires, but there is nothing ennobling about being part of such a society unless you happen to have managed to scramble to the top through luck and/or hard work. There is plenty of hard grind for the majority lower down the social scale but little prospect of reaching old age as we know it in the West.
Ultimately though, this book has neither the power of reportage or the impact of well-written fiction founded on fact.
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