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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by Katherine Boo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,0072852,556 (4.07)1 / 465
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 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 fortune in the recyclable garbage of richer people. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a rural childhood, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to good times. But then, as the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 70
    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
    The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad (Sandydog1)
    Sandydog1: Same type of "family" memoir written in literary style.
  6. 00
    Planet of Slums by Mike Davis (Nickelini)
  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.
  10. 01
    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.
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» See also 465 mentions

English (285)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (286)
Showing 1-5 of 285 (next | show all)
Narrative non-fiction set in Annawadi, a slum established on land owned by the Mumbai airport. The author spent three years interviewing and videotaping the residents. She documents the results in this book. It calls attention to the major issues she observed: extreme wealth for a few versus extreme poverty for many, rampant corruption, religious discrimination, problems with the justice system, and disenfranchisement of the poor. It is hard to conceive of living next to a sewage pool and paying bribes to obtain even the most basic services.

The book’s sub-title includes the word “hope,” but there is little to be found. It is more akin to resilience or doing whatever one must do in order to survive. And once survival becomes too much to bear, suicide is prevalent. The material in this book begs the question of what actions can be taken to improve the situation. I listened to the audio book, nicely read by Sunil Mahotra.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
4.5 stars
A story written by a white woman, who married an Indian man.
This is a story about people living in a slum, called Annawadi, next to the Mumbai airport. There is a sewage pond there. The slum is on airport land, so there's a constant threat over the slum's residents of their homes being torn down. Amazingly, people will fix up their homes, and make them more permanent, in the hopes that that will keep their home from being bulldozed.
The protagonist of the story is Abdul Husain, the oldest son, who supports the family by tracking down and selling garbage. His father was sickly and had no steady job.
" Abdul didn't dare voice the great flaw of his father, Karam Husain: too sick to sort much garbage, not sick enough to stay off his wife. The Wahhabi sect in which he'd been raised opposed birth control, and of Zehrunisa's 10 births, nine children had survived."
Ugh. My mom and dad were Catholic, and had seven children that they could not afford, and did not have the mental health to sustain and raise. When I was older, my father would shout, whenever the subject of the pope forbidding birth control would come up "let the God damn Pope support all these children born because he doesn't allow birth control!

One of the Husain's neighbors is Asha, a woman with political aspirations. She has a beautiful daughter named Manju, who she has high expectations for. But Manju is nothing like her mother: she has a high moral compass.
" Manju wasn't too interested in money. She hungered for virtue, a desire that was partly a fear. When studying, she sometimes fingered the scar on her neck from a night, years ago, when she'd stolen money from her mother to buy chocolates. Asha had responded with an axe..."

Fatima is a one-legged woman who the husain's rent a room in the back of their Shack to. Fatima is also muslim, so you would think they would stick together, being that the slum's (and the city's) population is majority Hindu. But Fatima is a chaos-driven creature, and she's jealous of Zehrunisa.
She quarrels with the Husains, and swears to them when a fight is taken to the police station that she will "trap them." She almost does.
She pours kerosene on her head and lights herself on fire, believing that it will be blamed on the Husains.
" 'she's a fool then,' said an old man. 'She wanted to burn herself a little, create a drama, and instead she burned herself a lot.'
'It is because of these people that I have done this,' Fatima cried out, her voice astonishingly clear. Everyone knew which people she meant."

Public hospitals, where Fatima is taken, are like public schools in Mumbai. Any monies put out for medicines, and products needed to treat patients, are embezzled by staff. Same with schools: any money given by charities, any money given by the government is appropriated by administration and staff.
"And Here at Cooper, where the fluorescent lights buzzed like horse flies, she continued to feel like a person who counted. Though the small burn Ward stank of fetid gauze, it was a fine place compared to the general wards, where many patients lay on the floor. She was sharing a room with only one other woman, whose husband swore he hadn't lit the fateful match. She had her first foam mattress, now sopping with urine. She had a plastic tube in her nostrils, attached to nothing. She had an IV bag with a used syringe sticking out of it, since the nurse said it was a waste to use a fresh syringe every time. She had a rusty metal contraption over her torso, to keep the stained sheet from sticking to her skin. But of all the new experiences Fatima was having in the burn ward, the most unexpected was the stream of respectable female visitors from Annawadi."
Then Fatima came home in a white metal box.
"An infection had killed her. A doctor adjusted the record in the name of hospital deniability. Burns that covered 35% of Fatima's body upon admission to Cooper became 95% at her death - a certain fatality, an unsalvageable case. 'Greenish yellowish sloughs formation all over burn injuries with foul smell,' read the postmortem. 'Brain congested, lungs congested. Heart pale.' Fatima's file was tied up in red string and sent to the records room of the morgue, where feral dogs slept among the towering stacks of folders on the floor, and bird song came through the window.... "

Asha and her children go to her native village in Vidharba for a family wedding, and for Asha to choose a husband for Manju, in which case Manju vows to herself to run away.
"... The government had built more water projects, too, but these had failed to compensate for the decline of Vidarbha's natural water systems. Poor rains and illegal siphoning depleted the water table; streams dried up; Rivers reversed course. As fish died and crops failed, money lenders became unofficial village Chiefs.
Ashamed and in debt, some Farmers killed themselves - an old story, one of the Marathi-movie staples. But the movie reel was still playing. In the new century, the government counted an average of 1000 Farmer suicides a year in Vidharba; activists counted many more. Whatever the number, the suicides had turned the region into international shorthand for the desperation of rural Indian poverty.
The files accumulating dust in the records room of the Vidharba bureaucracy indicated that modern means of suicide- drinking pesticide, mainly - had supplanted self-immolation.... "

Kalu is an orphan, one of Asha's peers, who sleeps on the city pavement. He is known for perfectly imitating movie stars and characters from the slum, and acting out scenes from Bollywood movies. He was also known for going over barbed wire fences, seeking valuable garbage at airport businesses, apparently unfazed by the pain of his scrapes.
He had been hanging out with Abdul and Sunil, his partner in trash-picking, when Abdul and Sunil headed off for home.
"Kalu had no home to retreat to. He decided to go to the airport, taking off across the thoroughfare toward the bright blue signs that led the way to the international terminal. ARRIVALS down. DEPARTURES up. HAPPY JOURNEY.
The following morning, Kalu lay outside Air India's red and white gates: a shirtless corpse with a grown-out Salman Khan haircut, crumpled behind a flowering hedge."

Sanjay is another of Abdul's peers:
"After kalu's death, five of the road boys were picked up and taken to the Sahar Police Station's 'unofficial' cell. They were beaten in the name of an investigation and released with the understanding that, if they didn't stay away from the increasingly elegant airport, they might find themselves charged with kalu's murder. The boys didn't know that the police had already filed away the case as a natural death.
One of the released boys, named karan, fled Annawadi, fled the city, and never returned. Another, Sanjay Shetty, frantically collected garbage and took it to the Husain's in order to finance his own getaway.
Zehrunisa gasped when she saw him. 'What happened to your face?' She asked. 'Why are you crying?'.. now SanJay could barely make words.
'Calm yourself,' Zehrunisa told him. 'Say what happened.'
between sobs he told her he had seen Kalu attacked by a gang of men in the darkness by the Air India gate. Then he told her of his own beating, in the police station. Sanjay didn't know what to fear more: that Kalu's attackers would discover he'd been a witness and come after him, or that the cops would pick him up for another another round of violent interrogation."

Multiple deaths of youth, and the destruction of two families, all for the cause of people living in poverty hating each other, all according to the elites' plan.
"... At Annawadi, everyone had a wrong he wanted righted: the water shortage, brutal for 3 months now; the quashing of voter applications at the election office; the worthlessness of the government schools; the fly-by-night subcontractors who ran off with their laborers' pay. Abdul was one of many residents who were angry at the police. Elaborate fantasies about blowing up the Sahar Police Station haf become the secret comfort of his night times. But the slumdwellers rarely got mad together - not even about the airport authority.
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. When they were fortunate, like Asha, they improved their lots by beggaring the Life chances of other poor people.
What was unfolding in Mumbai was unfolding elsewhere, too. In the age of global market capitalism, hopes and grievances were narrowly conceived, which blunted a sense of common predicament. Poor people didn't unite; they competed ferociously among themselves for gains as Slender as they were provisional. And this underCity Strife created only the faintest ripple in the fabric of the society at large. The gates of the rich, occasionally rattled, remained unbreached. The politicians held forth on The Middle class. The poor took down one another, and the world's great, unequal cities soldiered on in 0 relative peace."







( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Katherin Boo’s nonfiction story of the poverty and hopelessness of the lower class in India, specifically in Mumbai, is a condemnation on not only Indians but of the “haves” all over the world. Boo spent nearly four years with one community of squatters on the edges of the state of the art airport in Mumbai and embedded with the people to get to know them and their problems. It took some time for a caucasian Anglo to be accepted, but apparently after a time she was. I listened to the audio version of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” narrated excellently by Sunil Malhotra. I had to remind myself often at the beginning that this was not a novel. The abject poverty and hopelessness of the people living in the squalor of the airport fringe contrasted so dramatically with the affluence that was sweeping India at the time. Probably the most lucrative profession among the population of the squatters camp was sifting through garbage to get hold of recyclable metal and plastic. The merchants of trash treat the job as almost a profession, although the profits are slim, indeed. Malhotra’s narration is first class with changing Indian accents indicating what type of character was speaking. Male and female voices were equally well narrated. He is one of the best book narrators I’ve heard, and I’ve heard many. ( )
  FormerEnglishTeacher | Jul 26, 2022 |
Drags a bit in places but very gripping nonetheless when you consider that it's apparently all a true story. Would be tough to make all of this up. An interesting book with which to follow Jared Diamond's books.
( )
  RandomWally | Jun 6, 2022 |
A dramatic look at families striving toward a better life in Annawaldi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, hopes for a better life swell also. However, with every inch forward a large step back seizes them. ( )
  creighley | Apr 27, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 285 (next | show all)
Next I devoured Boo’s book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” which extended her probing and compassionate portrayal of poverty to India. Before becoming a journalist, I had spent nearly two years working with grass-roots groups in Mumbai slums just like Annawadi, the one she spent three years chronicling for the book. I’d been so upset by journalistic portrayals of these neighborhoods that I wrote an entire master’s thesis about the subject. Now, finally, here was an account that took slum residents seriously as protagonists in their own lives, without dismissing the inequality and corruption that stymied them.
 
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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[Prologue] Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father.
Let it keep, the moment when Officer Fish Lips met Abdul in the police station.
[Author's Note] Ten years ago, I fell in love with an Indian man adn gained a country.
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)

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 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 fortune in the recyclable garbage of richer people. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a rural childhood, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to good times. But then, as the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed.--From publisher description.

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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)

Prologue: Between roses -- Undercitizens -- Annawadi -- Asha -- Sunil -- Manju -- The business of burning -- Ghost house -- A hole she called a window -- A come-apart -- The master -- Market city -- Marquee effect -- Parrots, caught and sold -- Proper sleep -- Up and out -- Nine nights of dance -- Something shining -- The trial -- Ice -- Black and white -- A school, a hospital, a cricket field.
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