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

Katherine Boo
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times • The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • USA Today • New York • The Miami Herald • San Francisco Chronicle • Newsday   NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New Yorker • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • The Boston Globe • The Economist • Financial Times • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • Foreign Policy • The Seattle Times • The Nation • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Denver Post • Minneapolis Star Tribune • Salon • The Plain Dealer • The Week • Kansas City Star • Slate • Time Out New York • Publishers WeeklyFrom 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.


Reviewed: 2019-04-14
a nonfiction account of life in Annawadi, the slum that borders the Mumbai airport. The abject poverty that is rampant in the slum is portrayed in straightforward language. These people endure less than subsistent lifestyles were death by disease, neglect, and suicide are widely accepted. Six people in 3000 have full-time jobs in Annawadi. The book is centered around the woman who sets herself on fire to accuse her neighbor of what will be her death. The corruption in the legal, police, and medical systems is exposed. It all comes down to money.
Reviewed: 2018-07-30

A beautiful, heart-breaking book. 

To read about the corruption in India and how any program created to help the poor is clogged with politicians and their cronies trying to make as much money as possible it's truly amazing that anyone living in a slum would have any optimism at bettering their life.

Their lives and deaths are meaningless in the greater city of Mumbai, but the lives they lead are incredible for the tenacious grip on getting out of the slum, bettering themselves and creating something their children will be happy to have. As you read about the lives of the various slum dwellers you wish the best for them, and you mourn each death. 

It will be difficult to read any other book on India and not think of these characters. 

Reviewed: 2017-01-29
This book inhabits a liminal state between fiction and nonfiction in tone. It has very little of the clunky writing normally associated with nonfiction, yet doesn't feel like the fast-paced, beginning, middle, resolution-driven stuff of fiction, either. Boo really managed to get inside the minds and life of these people living in Annawadi, and the tone reflects that. The language is beautiful and heartbreaking. It's a testament to the power and failure of hope and hard work in the lives of the seemingly forgotten and unwanted.
Reviewed: 2015-11-28
I'm still thinking about this book.

So much poverty. So much corruption. So much sadness. I am so glad I read this book. I am glad I live in America, and I feel a little guilty for the easy life I lead. I hadn't stopped to consider that so much of your start in life depends on your birthplace. The people chronicled in this book started out on the wrong side of luck and never found their way out. It's hard to believe that so many people live like this in Mumbai. A powerful story.
Reviewed: 2015-11-25

Sensational insight into slum living in India. I totally believe this book. I have seen slums - admittedly from a safe distance - all over the emerging world and this book captures the rotten core of the lot of these poor people. Corruprion is not just a feature of the well to do, it's a means to survival for the ultra poor paradoxically. This book is terrific.


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