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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death,…
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (edition 2012)

by Katherine Boo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,7302332,158 (4.08)1 / 410
Member:jasonlf
Title:Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Authors:Katherine Boo
Info:Random House (2012), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:nonfiction, journalism

Work details

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

  1. 50
    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (fountainoverflows)
    fountainoverflows: A classic story, also set in Mumbai/Bombay, but covering some very similar territory.
  2. 50
    Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (TomWaitsTables)
  3. 20
    Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Another journalistic-novelistic account of lives in Bombay, but more wide ranging across classes and by a native.
  4. 10
    Libertad by Alma Fullerton (fountainoverflows)
    fountainoverflows: Although a children's title, this book follows the story of two boys whose lives revolve around salvaging cardboard and other waste in a Guatemalan dump. When their mother is buried in the refuse, they make a trek north to find their father, supposedly in the Southern U.S. border states. Their lives have a considerable amount in common with the Husain family's.… (more)
  5. 00
    Planet of Slums by Mike Davis (Nickelini)
  6. 00
    The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time by Bob Harris (srdr)
    srdr: Engaging stories of how microfinance loans via the internet can change the lives of the working poor worldwide.
  7. 00
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (TomWaitsTables)
  8. 00
    The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India by Siddhartha Deb (TomWaitsTables)
  9. 00
    Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both authors have spent a long time with a community of the very poor and have produced sympathetic and very insightful books about how the "underclass" see, and manage their interactions with, the rest of society.
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We wrestled with the question if whether days in rat-filled Annawadi garbage sheds and late-njght expeditions with thieves at a glamorous new airport had anything to contribute to an understanding of the pursuit of opportunity in an unequal, globalized world. Maybe, we firmly concluded...

Just as the story of Annawadi is not representative of a country as huge and diverse as India, it is not a neat encapsulation of the state of poverty and opportunity in the twenty-first-century world...

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.
- Author's Note.

When reading about subjects like concentration camps or dictatorships, as heartbreaking (and depending on whether it's fiction or nonfiction, maybe even an element of exploitation of the events) as they are, there is always a clear point: to read is to remember, to prevent them from ever happening again.

Reading this book, I have lost my usual reasonings. What can I learn from the seemingly inescapable conditions of a Mumbai slum, the systematic corruption that simultaneously encourages and suppresses them, is there even a realistic solution to such injustices? Is this the usual "misery lit" that I try to avoid, am I participating in a book form of poverty tourism? The best I can come up with is that the book is a form of justice

On the style, I am undecided about the novelistic journalese prose. I have to keep reminding myself this is nonfiction but the absence of the author in the narrative - when it feels clear from some events that she had to have been present - distracts me. The absence seems to imply that her presence in the slum was unimportant but surely her very presence would have influenced the events somehow? Lots of questions, mostly unanswerable, but here is a good behind the scenes of the book.

Even though just reading will not necessarily change the situation of the slums, I feel, I hope, that every read acts as a catalyst to an eventual justice. A compulsory reading for everyone. ( )
  kitzyl | Jun 18, 2017 |
I felt the author's writing style was excellent. Reading this book, I didn't actually know until the end that it was non-fiction. This made the stories even more impactful. The character development, the situations described and the conditions in which these people live is heart-breaking. The descriptions of the caste system and the corruption within their small community and the country overall is so very disturbing. An incredible book that tells the real-life horrors of living in an Indian slum. ( )
  tinkerbellkk | May 21, 2017 |
Wonderful ( )
  ibkennedy | Mar 26, 2017 |
I read this as part of my MA degree. Didn’t think it’s be to my tastes, but happy to say I was proved wrong.

The author writes this nonfiction account as though it were a novel. The third person narrative is related as though all is true without the author interjecting with, “I found this out by interviewing …” or anything of that nature. At no point does the author “appear” in the action or events.

The absence of footnotes or any type of referencing add to the novel flavour. This is a good way to approach a work of nonfiction. Only when reading the author’s note at the end does the reader learn of Ms Boo’s extensive research. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Feb 27, 2017 |
I was struck by the rawness of life in this slum "built in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport." Here are some passages to set the tone.

"Everything around is roses" is how Abdul's younger brother, Mirchi, put it. "And we are the shit in between."

"True, only six of the slums three thousand residents had permanent jobs. (The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers, were part of the informal, unorganized economy.) True, a few residents trapped rats and frogs and fried them for dinner. A few ate the scrub grass at the sewage lake's edge. And these individuals, miserable souls, thereby made an inestimable contribution to their neighbors. They gave those slumdwellers who didn't fry rats and eat weeds, like Abdul, a felt sense of their upward mobility."

And then, not for the faint-of-heart:

"Abdul had seen a boy's hand cut clean off when he was putting plastic into one of the shredders. The boy's eyes had filled with tears, but he hadn't screamed. Instead he'd stood there with his blood-spurting stump, his ability to earn a living ended, and started apologizing to the owner of the plant. "Saab, I'm sorry," he'd said to the man in white. 'I won't cause you any problems by reporting this. You will have no trouble from me.'

"For all Mirchi's talk of progress, India still made a person know his place..."

This is a life I can scarce imagine and one I know I would not do well in if it was my reality.
The writing is gorgeous, the characters are vivid, and the story is compelling. But life is hard here! Poverty is everywhere, corruption abounds, love is scarce.

"...he had tried to be honorable in his final years as a boy, but wouldn't be able to sustain it now that he was pretty sure he was a man. A man, if sensible, didn't make bright distinctions between good and bad, truth and falsehood, justice and that other thing.

"For some time I tried to keep the ice inside me from melting," was how he put it. "But now I'm just becoming dirty water, like everyone else. I tell Allah I love Him immensely. But I tell Him I cannot be better, because of how the world is."

This is a neighborhood and a life I am only too happy to be apart from. People truly live like this. At times, I did not want to read this book, but I knew I had to be open to these images and people, their lives; to see it and be moved by it. 4 stars ( )
  Berly | Feb 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 239 (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 editionscalculated
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.
Quotations
“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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Wikipedia in English (2)

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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