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

  1. 30
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  2. 30
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  4. 10
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    The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time by Bob Harris (srdr)
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  6. 00
    Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh (wandering_star)
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English (210)  Italian (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (212)
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the story of a few residents of the Annawadi slum of Mumbai over the course of a few years. Asha is an aspiring slumlord; her daughter Manju is a college student. Abdul and Sunil are garbage-pickers who earn a living selling the recyclables they scavenge. Annawadi is located near the airport and several five-star hotels, but lacks a proper sewer system, running water, and real schools; it exists under the constant threat of being razed, and corruption thwarts any major improvements, even as some residents turn corruption into opportunity.

I expected these stories to broaden into a wider narrative of modern India, but although they are told with insight, they remain the stories of these few people, this one slum, with little hope for how things might change for the better.


Asha grasped many of her own contradictions, among them that you could be proud of having spared your offspring hardship while also resenting them for having been spared. (27)

[Fatima] had no interest in playing the shuffling, grateful role that the charitable types expected of the disabled. (72)

The Indian criminal justice system was a market like garbage, Abdul now understood. Innocence and guilt could be bought and sold like a kilo of polyurethane bags. (107)

Sunil and Abdul...shared the understanding that much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said. (172)

Things were inflicted upon [Meena]....But what did she ever get to decide? (182)

Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating. (219)

The crucial things were luck and the ability to sustain two convictions: that what you were doing wasn't all that wrong, in the scheme of things, and that you weren't all that likely to get caught. (228)

Poor people didn't unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for gains as slender as they were provisional. (237)

Abdul's father had developed an irritating habit of talking about the future as if it were a bus: "It's moving past and you think you're going to miss it but then you say, wait, maybe I won't miss it - I just have to run faster than I've ever run before. Only now we're all tired and damaged, so how fast can we really run?" (241) ( )
  JennyArch | Oct 7, 2015 |
Half heartbreaking, half boring. While it i a moving tale of brutal poverty, I just could not get into this. and it was even told in story manner but still...

What this book does do is give me pause to how easy I actually have it in life. Even though I struggle and I think how bad it is when bills come in ,collectors come calling and I wonder if I can even afford the electric bill, at least I have the options. I have a home, food, entertainment options, utilites, doctor care, etc. This outlook leaves you grateful for working 2 jobs to keep money flowing. Here, life is cutthroat the extreme. On the plus, we see how inventve pne can be when up against a wall and need cash.

This is despairing and depressing! The people in this are awful to one another! I wish for the old' ol days on neighborhood bbq's and such but I will take my worst neighbor any day over anyone in this book. Everyone must lookout for themselves. And one of those places where, 'if I am unhappy or unwell, everyone around me must be made to be worse off than I am.

So was I just depressed, bored, miserable or shocked at what I just read? The answer is all the above. Part of me has heard this tale of woe before from other voices and Katherine Boo did not rise to meet the interest of others. Yet to put it down was not possible either.

( )
  jljaina | Oct 7, 2015 |
@behind_beautiful +john_green ( )
  Lorem | Oct 2, 2015 |
Another powerful book. Hard to believe these people live on the same planet I do. The corruption, greed, etc. Just awful. Cannot imagine the life. And how unfulfilled it must be. We have it way too good. The book really gives an intimate portrait of how way too many people live and survive. ( )
  bermandog | Aug 14, 2015 |
Behind the Beautiful Forevers tells the stories of residents of Annawadi, a slum just outside the Mumbai international airport and in close proximity of a number of luxury hotels. Outside the airport is a billboard advertising Italian floor tiles with the tagline, "beautiful forever, beautiful forever, beautiful forever." Just beyond this billboard lies the Annawadi slum, where residents fight for survival in a corrupt political and economic climate, many making their livings through trash collection, prostitution, and manipulation of the corrupt system.

I'm not sure I would include the word "hope" in the title of this book. The book paints a very bleak picture of life in the slums of India, and I felt sad and hopeless when I finished reading it. Organizations supposedly working to alleviate poverty and provide opportunities for the poor are often just as corrupt as the political systems that are causing the poverty. They work towards their missions only when they are being monitored, otherwise funneling money and resources elsewhere.

I think the author painted a very honest picture of life in Annawadi. She researched for years, conducted hundreds of interview and did a lot of fact-checking. She did not romanticize the residents of the slum. They act both selflessly to support their families, and also selfishly, doing whatever it takes to get ahead. I appreciate this honest depiction.

This book addresses important issues, is well written, and well researched. I think it is better than three stars, but due to my recent inability to concentrate on anything for more than fifteen minutes, I had a hard time really getting into it.
( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
Boo, in letting go of her story, in dwelling with it relatively briefly in her book's 250 pages (in contrast to the years she spent with the slum-dwellers), allows it to resonate with us as a small classic of contemporary writing.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Katherine Booprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Malhotra, SunilReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For two Sunils
and what they've taught me about not giving up
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Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father.
“Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes, like Fatima, they destroyed themselves in the process.”
She was damaged, and acknowledged it freely. She was illiterate--acknowledged that, too. But when others spoke of her fury as an ignorant, animal thing, that was bukwaas, utter nonsense. Much of her outrage derived from a belated recognition that she was as human as anyone else.
. . . He still found it strange to think of her as dead, because at Annawadi he hadn't considered her fully alive. Like many of his neighbors, he had assessed her damage, physical and emotional, and casually assigned her to a lesser plane of existence. . . .
In the West, and among some in the Indian elite, this word, "corruption", had purely negative connotations; it was seen as blocking India's modern, global ambitions. But for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.
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Book description
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and a India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a teenager who sorts and sells recyclable airport garbage, believes that he's on the verge of lifting his family of eleven out of poverty. Asha, a mother of three, is determined to make her sensitive teenage daughter, Manju, the first female college graduate in Annawadi. Meanwhile, even the poorest among them, like Kalu, a homeless, fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, feel themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call the "Full Enjoy." But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terrorism and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the true contours of an unequal, desperately competitive market city are revealed, so too are the resilience and ingenuity of the people of Annawadi. (978-1-4000-6755-8)
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Profiles everyday life in the settlement of Annawadi as experienced by a Muslim teen, an ambitious rural mother, and a young scrap metal thief, illuminating how their efforts to build better lives are challenged by religious, caste, and economic tensions.… (more)

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