A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi

A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi

4.8 13
by Aman Sethi
     
 

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“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”—Katherine Boo

Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage.

Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an

Overview

“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”—Katherine Boo

Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage.

Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of friends to life through their adventures and misfortunes in the Old Delhi Railway Station, the harrowing wards of a tuberculosis hospital, an illegal bar made of cardboard and plywood, and into Beggars Court and back onto the streets.

In a time of global economic strain, this is an unforgettable evocation of persistence in the face of poverty in one of the world’s largest cities. Sethi recounts Ashraf’s surprising life story with wit, candor, and verve, and A Free Man becomes a moving story of the many ways a man can be free.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sethi, an award-winning journalist for The Hindu, delivers a moving and irrepressible work of narrative reporting that captures the lives—and voices—of the homeless laborers in the Bara Tooti Chowk in Old Delhi. The chowk is literally a labor market where every alleyway, lane, and dead end has a story. Sethi focuses on a homeless middle-aged house painter and construction worker, Mohammed Ashraf, who finds jobs by waiting in the early morning on Bari Tooti’s main road. Before coming to Bari Tooti, Ashraf was a biology student, then a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice. He once had a wife, a home, and two children, whom he hasn’t seen in decades. Ashraf’s life story unfolds through a series of vignettes as the author accompanies him and others to various haunts: Kaka’s tea, the Old Delhi Railway Station, a secret illegal bar everyone knows made of “interlocking sheets” of cardboard and plywood, and the TB wards of the city hospital. Delhi is a frenzied city “splintering under the strain of fundamental urban reconfiguration,” where 800,000 slum dwellers, including Ashraf, were violently displaced when their settlement was bulldozed. Ashraf’s voice—acerbic, bombastic, and philosophical—makes for wonderful reading, and Sethi’s remarkable prose and impeccable sense of timing renders his subjects with pathos and humor. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (Oct.)
New York Times Book Review
A Free Man makes no promise of a happy ending. Perhaps no book about contemporary Indian society can. But it delivers more. It takes readers on a journey they might otherwise not go on. And that the destination is neither secret nor hidden shows that sometimes what matters isn’t what’s beyond our reach. It’s what’s before our eyes.— Sonia Faleiro
Katherine Boo
“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”
Siddhartha Mukherjee
“Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, A Free Man is an extraordinary vignette into an extraordinary life.”
Michael Ondaatje
“A brilliant capturing of the language and bloodstream of a city. Aman Sethi has made a book that’s remarkable in its voice and evocation.”
Sylvia Nasar
“Stunning. It reminds me of that Victorian masterpiece of investigative journalism, Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor. Aman Sethi ‘gets’ modern India better than any other journalist I know. Not only is he a remarkable reporter and storyteller, but he possesses a novelist’s ear for language, sense of the absurd, and perfect pitch. I’m bowled over, totally.”
Esther Duflo
“A Free Man is a beautiful work of journalism, sympathetic and graceful. The author follows, and progressively befriends, a homeless day laborer in Delhi. What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend.”
Hari Kunzru
“With A Free Man, Aman Sethi comes to the forefront of an extraordinary new generation of Indian nonfiction writers. His compassion and humor is matched by a fierce determination to tell the stories of ordinary Indians, too often forgotten in the scramble for the spoils of the economic boom.”
Arundhati Roy
“Funny and disturbing.”
Sonia Faleiro - New York Times Book Review
“A Free Man makes no promise of a happy ending. Perhaps no book about contemporary Indian society can. But it delivers more. It takes readers on a journey they might otherwise not go on. And that the destination is neither secret nor hidden shows that sometimes what matters isn’t what’s beyond our reach. It’s what’s before our eyes.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Important [and] powerful.”
Christian Science Monitor
“As raw and disturbing as it is wryly humorous and poignant.”
New York Times Book Review - Sonia Faleiro
“A Free Man makes no promise of a happy ending. Perhaps no book about contemporary Indian society can. But it delivers more. It takes readers on a journey they might otherwise not go on. And that the destination is neither secret nor hidden shows that sometimes what matters isn’t what’s beyond our reach. It’s what’s before our eyes.”
Kirkus Reviews
A journalist ingratiates himself with a band of day laborers on the mean streets of Delhi, India. In 2005, Sethi, a young reporter eager to undertake an investigative study of Delhi's working poor, befriended vagabond Mohammed Ashraf and his crew. Six years later, he found himself still involved in Ashraf's life, providing him with both emotional and financial support. Although Sethi initially expressed frustration with Ashraf's reluctance to provide a linear timeline of his life story, he soon fell under the spell cast by this streetwise raconteur. Like many others in his circle, Ashraf had run away to Delhi to escape a tempestuous home life. During times when he could find work, he painted houses and did other manual odd jobs; during times when there was either no work to be had or no work that he wanted, he drank heavily, spun tall tales and fantasized about opening his own business. Sethi excels at empathetically depicting what could come across as a miserable existence: he allows Ashraf and the other mazdoors (laborers) to share their stories without either judging them or pretending to be one of them. For all the injustices that these men face every day, the book offers ample humor. In the most poignant chapters, Sethi accompanies Ashraf's friend to a tuberculosis hospital. The bureaucracy and despair of such an institution becomes painfully clear when Sethi portrays the panel of admitting doctors, all wearing masks and looking away from their patients. Alternately sad, defiant, carefree and understated, this journey into a world hidden in plain sight is well worth taking.
The New York Times Book Review
A Free Man makes no promise of a happy ending. Perhaps no book about contemporary Indian society can. But it delivers more. It takes readers on a journey they might otherwise not go on. And that the destination is neither secret nor hidden shows that sometimes what matters isn't what's beyond our reach. It's what's before our eyes.
—Sonia Faleiro

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393089721
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/15/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
File size:
410 KB

What People are saying about this

Siddhartha Mukherjee
Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, A Free Man is an extraordinary vignette into an extraordinary life.
—Siddhartha Mukherjee (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies)
Esther Duflo
A Free Man is a beautiful work of journalism, sympathetic and graceful. The author follows, and progressively befriends, a homeless day laborer in Delhi. What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend.
—Esther Duflo (author of Poor Economics and MacArthur Fellow)
Katherine Boo
A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India's most original new voices.
—Katherine Boo (author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers)
Arundhati Roy
Funny and disturbing.
—Arundhati Roy (author of The God of Small Things)
Michael Ondaatje
A Free Man is a brilliant capturing of the language and bloodstream of a city. Aman Sethi has made a book that's remarkable in its voice and evocation.
—Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient)
Hari Kunzru
With A Free Man, Aman Sethi comes to the forefront of an extraordinary new generation of Indian nonfiction writers. His compassion and humor is matched by a fierce determination to tell the stories of ordinary Indians, too often forgotten in the scramble for the spoils of the economic boom.
—Hari Kunzru (author of Gods Without Men)
Sylvia Nasar
A Free Man is stunning. It reminds me of that Victorian masterpiece of investigative journalism, Henry Mayhew's London Labour and London Poor. Aman Sethi 'gets' modern India better than any other journalist I know. Not only is he a remarkable reporter and storyteller, but he possesses a novelist's ear for language, sense of the absurd, and perfect pitch. I'm bowled over, totally.
—Sylvia Nasar (author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius)

Meet the Author

Aman Sethi was born in Bombay in 1983 and attended the Columbia School of Journalism. He is a correspondent for The Hindu and the recipient of an International Committee of the Red Cross award for his reportage.

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A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
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