Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

by Katherine Boo
4.0 194


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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400067558
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/07/2012
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 311,178
Product dimensions: 6.58(w) x 9.72(h) x 1.13(d)
Lexile: 1030L (what's this?)

About the Author

Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 194 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful read, depressing subject. Slowly you enter this slum and are there. Tragic but I could not stop reading
JadeWant More than 1 year ago
This is beautifully written with humor and sensitivity. The characters come alive and you quickly care very much about them and their attempts to leave the Annawadi. The subject matter is sometimes grim, but the author shines another light on it with intelligence, wit and humor. It's a fast-paced story showing the courage of these poor people. I recommend this excellent book because there is so much for people to learn here and be grateful for the good things in their own lives. You will have a heavy heart when you finish.
Liz_Scheier More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, fast-moving, and touching - this is a gem.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent book; best book I've read about India since City of Joy. Boo is an amazing author drawing you into the lives of each of her friends of Anawadi. She'll open your eyes, break your heart, and drive you to prayer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is well written,but I have not read anything that offers hope so far. Everyone is corrupt except maybe the young boy Kabul. Any to think these conditions are right next to the big airport and the extravagant high rise hotels. If India is so up and coming why do they not help the poor and provide healthy hospitals.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
There are moments of innocence, and a bit of unexpected wit amidst the descriptions of horrific suffering, abject misery and violence that are juxtaposed against each other and accepted as a normal way of life by the residents of Annawandi, an unbelievably impoverished community of the poor in India. It sits just adjacent to opulent, luxury hotels on airport property, built for the rich and famous. The squalid huts barely provide shelter or privacy for the inhabitants as they scavenge the leavings of these monuments and its dwellers. The contrast is stark and unforgiving. Envy is in no short supply there, and they each prey upon the other, the weak on the weaker, the poor on the poorer, simply to survive. Children are commodities, education is minimal, girls are not as valuable as boys, blame is always assigned someplace else rather than on one’s own shoulders and few accept responsibility for their own behavior and its consequences. The jobs of the poor create a hierarchy in the community. Each different level earns a different small amount of respect for residents. There seemed to be little that was beyond the pale regarding what these poor souls would attempt in order to live another day. Suicides were common in the face of such hopelessness. What made it so hard to read was the realization that this story is based on real families; it is non-fiction; your hair will rise as you realize this is really happening in this day and age, in a culture still steeped in prejudice and memories of the hateful caste system. Their superstition is evidenced in statements like this: “He beats his wife but lets her live.” This is supposed to be commendable. Abdul is a young Muslim man who makes his living as a waste collector. His family has been moving up the ladder of success, saving for the day when they can become landowners, in a community of Muslims, where they will be treated with respect and have a better life. In huts with walls, sometimes no thicker than paper separating families, the residents will do anything necessary to earn money. They turn against each other, they are superstitious, they are cruel and vengeful, looking to blame someone for their troubles, even, and often wrongfully, never turning back even after they realize they have committed a grave injustice. It is important to maintain appearances, even in the face of such squalor; lies flourish. Separated by only a few inches from the one legged woman who filled with envy and anger, falsely accuses his family of setting her aflame, Abdul and his family must enter into a nightmare scenario simply to survive the corruption and graft necessary to earn their freedom and end the injustice. Even though Fatima’s young daughter witnessed her self-immolation, the wheels of justice are not just, but are filled with low-lifes, frauds of all stripes, corrupt police who beat innocent victims, dishonest and dishonorable advocates encouraging neighbors to lie so they may then offer bribes that they swear will guarantee their innocence, if only they will pay. Whom shall they pay? They have no money; they can't afford to squander any of it on a chance, not a guarantee. Each player in this wicked game tells a greater lie, simply to get paid for services often worthless and never rendered. It feels very much like Kafka's trial, a hopeless situation without solution. The author, married to a native of India, spent several years investigating these residents, and she has written a beautifully crafted rendition of their lives, albeit steeped in corruption and disaster, as they simply try to survive in a nearly impossible situation. She has captured the texture of their lives and the tone of their conversations, clearly illustrating the struggle they endure daily. Although the hopelessness of their lives appears to be largely of their own making, they are unable to stop the pendulum from swinging back and forth, from disaster to disaster, as they victimize each other. She does not paint a pretty picture and consequently it is difficult to look at it objectively, without disliking many of the characters, even as you understand the motives for their reckless behavior. They are uneducated and backward, and they are unable to see the pain they cause or the disastrous end results approaching for their own future. There is often more concern for animals than people and investors in charitable projects, sponsored by the government, are often corrupt, stealing from the very charity they support and inhibiting even the lackluster efforts of the government. One can only hope that, as India prospers, the wealth and benefits will trickle down beyond the borders of the airports wealthy hotels and the neighborhoods of the rich and famous; but these people seem so blind to the plight of the masses of indigent people, it is really hard to imagine.
BekahSC More than 1 year ago
There were times reading this book that I had to remind myself that the events taking place had actually happened, so easily does it all seem like fiction. In introducing the reader to a group of Mumbai slum dwellers, the author reveals what it's like to be at the bottom of the heap in one of the world's fastest growing economies. But, in the midst of people working furiously to carve out a living from collecting garbage (and finding a measure of success), tragedy strikes two families. A woman has died, and her neighbors are accused of killing her. What follows is a labyrinthine journey through bureaucratic red tape, widespread graft and cover-ups. Shining a light on a kind of poverty that doesn't exist in this country, the author gives voice to the voiceless. Finishing the book, I was left wondering if India's rise to global power is in spite of itself and how a society can succeed when even the nuns are willing to trample those beneath them.
MdExTx More than 1 year ago
I read this book for my book group, otherwise I probably wouldn't have finished it. It is beautifully written, the descriptions of the squalor the people endure are vivid, and their hard-scrabble existences are heartbreaking, but I just couldn't get into it. I finished it in a big push so I could go on to something else. Most everyone else in the book group loved it though, so give it a try. You might too.
MissTeaBerry More than 1 year ago
An amazing true story, not just about abject poverty, but about people-simply beautiful and amazing and lyrical writing, don't miss this fantastic new author!
Elemillia More than 1 year ago
This book, no doubt, will leave you feeling at your lowest and saddest. It starts off powerfully larger than life. As you continue to read it though, the story of poverty and corruption, because so ubiquitous and so broadly terrorizing to your psyche, will break your emotions. You'll feel. You'll even cry. But you'll feel a lot of sadness, most of all. With a little bit of hope, too. After I got over the shock of the corruption taking place in Mumbai, India, I was trying to figure out where this book fits in our culture, our society, and our world in general. It wasn't until I got to the author's note that I finally had some hope that this book was going to bring more than just ultimate sadness. It's the following passage that sealed for me what the book ultimate scope is. "In places where government priorities and market imperatives create a world so capricious that to help a neighbor is to risk your ability to feed your family, and sometimes even your own liberty, the idea of the mutually supportive poor community is demolished. The poor blame one another for the choices of governments and markets, and we who are not poor are ready to blame the poor just as harshly. It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in under-cities governed by corruption where exhausted people lie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good. The astonishment is that some people are good, and that many people try to be... all those individuals who every day find themselves faced with dilemmas not unlike the one Abdul confronted, stone slab in hand, one July afternoon when his life exploded. If the house is crooked and crumbling and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?" Katherine Boo does write in a very fiction-like way. The 'characters' in the book, and their lives seem to mirror those of novelistic characters. She doesn't tell the story of the people of Mumbai in a sequential fashion but more in a plot-driven kind of way weaving back and forth from the macro to the micro and vice versa. The book is very special in this way. It is probably the most significant aspect of how it will make you feel, besides obviously the reality of the lives of the people of Mumbai, India. I felt at some point during the book that there was going to be no sign of hope for the circumstances being described. I mean, every page you turned had some level of corruption. Every chapter had a story of doom. There were moments when I couldn't stomach the tragedies. I felt horrible for being so helpless. On the upside, though, it's these dire circumstances that prompt you, to possibly do something, if you're a person who likes to get involved. And if anything, that something can be as small as a conversation for awareness, to let people know to read this story. The hope I found with this book is the possibility, the opportunity for discourse. If change starts at any point, it is at the point of open and honest discussion of the reality of our lives - whether based on those in India or those close to home. And I think this is what Katherine Boo is trying to emphasize. We must take a look at how far poverty and corruption can take us, and we then have to ask ourselves what factors are involved. There's also the topic of human perserverence and the discussion that involves how much strength, courage, and ambition one must have to escape the dire conditions in which you are brought up in. Katherine Boo did an amazing job painting this picture, even though the number of people who do escape these tragic conditions may be one in a milion. She did a great job, overall. I was really happy to have read this book. It opened my eyes beyond my expectations.
L.A.Carlson-writer More than 1 year ago
From the opening pages Katherine Boo presents a world few of us could imagine; a world of contradictions, extreme wealth and extreme poverty. This is how it is when you live in Mumbia, India. This is the running narrative of 3 individuals; a teenage garbage trader, a woman who has political aspirations and a young scrap-metal thief. More than anything this is a story of survival in slums of Annawadt which are next door to luxury hotels that divide this area. Boo spent three years researching and living here among the people. This is one of those extraordinary books that will stay with you forever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do you think you have a good idea about what goes on in the world? Especially third world areas? I used to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable in these and other worldly areas of study. This book made me rethink everything. From what I thought I knew, to how I would find out more, what charities to contribute to, and where I spend my money. It was informative and enthralling. I got so wrapped in the lives of these characters that I sometimes forgot my problems all together as theirs were so much more dire. Well written, well researched, and a must read
VAshby More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written book that I could not put down. Katherine Boo brought you into the world of each character and made you care. I didn't want it to end.
OS2 More than 1 year ago
Nothing comes close to this book when it comes to grasping the feel and taste of India's under-cities. What Katherine Boo has done here is provide the reader with a true world experience of life in the slums and the back burners that play a critical role in shaping Indian society. A masterpiece, and a must read to understand the hidden realities of India.
Booklover88SH More than 1 year ago
This is, without a doubt, the most well-written, powerful book that I have ever experienced. Because of the author's way of recording in consequential story form, one truly becomes engaged in each person's life, and notes the radical difference from our own. Not being able to put this book down, I was also impelled to complete it in order to share with my neighbor, who will appreciate just as much, having been to the Mumbai airport...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had deep meaning to me and I'm grateful for it.
bucmjt More than 1 year ago
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo is a terrific book.  Horrible, awful, emotional and so very real.  Every word paints a picture.  And you won't want to miss a single one.
kcbTX More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book even though it is rather depressing. I hope my children will read this to open their eyes to how fortunate we are. The book is well written and the people are compelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A heartbreaking yet somehow inspiring book about human nature in the worst imaginable conditions. When all is lost not everyone will tear the other apart. Some elemental goodness still tries to survive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sad desperate story. All the foul language in the book/story is not for me. The story which was well worth telling could have been told without it in it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books ever. I feel as though I met the people in the book, and they have a place in my heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A really great story. You feel like you are entangled int this world of poverty and frustration. I felt like I was living here. Everyone should read this book to get a sense of what a huge percentage of people go through daily!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book, so much that I had to read the negative reviews just to figure out who wouldn't see the beauty in it. I would like to write a book like this someday.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book grips its audiance. It tells a story about the life people life in undercities, the life that people cant normally escape. This novel tore me apart, hearing about Abdual and the other childrens lives. Never will i forget this heart wrenchimng story. Best book i have read in FOREVER
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this in hardcover and read it through with huge anticipation and eagerness. As the story unfolded I was transported to the slum world of Mumbai and its inhabitants, so real and transparent. It will evoke a palpable sadness and disgust of the circumstances of how India carries on its day while the struggles of the slum world go on. It broadened my scope of vision to such a degree I found myself talking about this book to so many even while reading it. It is a lasting mark on our humanity.