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

Katherine Boo

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

Annawadi is a slum at the edge of Mumbai Airport, in the shadow of shining new luxury hotels. Its residents are garbage recyclers, construction workers and economic migrants, all of them living in the hope that a small part of India's booming future will eventually be theirs. But when a crime rocks the slum community and global recession and terrorism shocks the city, tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy begin to turn brutal. As Boo gets to know those who dwell at Mumbai's margins, she evokes an extraordinarily vivid and vigorous group of individuals flourishing against the odds amid the complications, corruptions and gross inequalities of the new India. 4.9 out of 5 based on 12 reviews
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Paperback
Pages 288
RRP
Date of Publication June 2012
ISBN 978-1846274497
Publisher Portobello Books
 

Annawadi is a slum at the edge of Mumbai Airport, in the shadow of shining new luxury hotels. Its residents are garbage recyclers, construction workers and economic migrants, all of them living in the hope that a small part of India's booming future will eventually be theirs. But when a crime rocks the slum community and global recession and terrorism shocks the city, tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy begin to turn brutal. As Boo gets to know those who dwell at Mumbai's margins, she evokes an extraordinarily vivid and vigorous group of individuals flourishing against the odds amid the complications, corruptions and gross inequalities of the new India.

The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro

Reviews

The New York Times

Janet Maslin

[An] exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter.

30/01/2012

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The Observer

William Dalrymple

It is never easy for a middle-class intellectual to convey the struggles of the lives of the poor and disadvantaged; Orwell pulled it off, but few others have succeeded without sounding either condescending or voyeuristic. It is more difficult still if that writer comes from a different country and does not speak the requisite languages. Yet thanks to several years of rigorous research on the ground, following her characters around as they live their lives, months of research retrieving court documents through India's Right to Information Act, and, most of all, through close observation and a deep human empathy, Boo has created as detailed, convincing and moving a portrait of urban deprivation as The Road to Wigan Pier.

24/06/2012

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The Scotsman

Panjak Mishra

Most recent books about the country, unselfconsciously suffused with the clichés of the age, speak of how free-market capitalism has ignited a general explosion of opportunity, fostering hope among the most destitute of Indians. Boo describes what really happens when opportunity accrues to the already privileged in the age of globalisation, when governments remain dysfunctional and corrupt.

30/06/2012

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The Spectator

David Gilmour

People who write about poverty usually describe how that condition affects them, how they react to the squalor and degradation which they encounter. Even Orwell…could not keep himself out of Down and Out in Paris and London. But Boo seems to efface herself completely ... The approach is thus reminiscent of the opening page of Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin: 'I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.' Yet in other ways the author is very much in the book, in the quality of the writing and the intelligence of the appraisals...

23/06/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Ian Thomson

Magnificent … As an ethnology of Indian slum life, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a masterpiece that ranks with Sonia Faleiro’s study of Mumbai’s red-light district, Beautiful Thing. Useless to describe the singular power of this book; it is, quite simply, one of the finest works on contemporary India yet written.

20/06/2012

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The Times

Neel Mukherjee

The implicit question is not how to make these lives better; it is a question that should precede it: what drives these lives and how. Before prescription there should be knowledge: Boo’s book provides the adamantine, unignorable, truthful kind. And yet all this never descends into horrorism. Boo is unsentimental, unjudgmental, uncondescending, yet brimful of compassion brought about by what I can only call fellowship or a kind of commonality with her subjects. It is not an angry book; she has moved beyond anger, assimilating it into moral energy and pressing it into the service of unflinching truth-telling.

19/05/2012

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The Sunday Times

Nick Rennison

[An] exceptional work of reportage … Boo makes no attempt to disguise the miseries involved in living close to a vast pool of sewage on land where feral pigs gorge on rotting leftovers from the airport hotels. She does not pretend that the Annawadians possess virtues that they do not. However, she does grant them individuality and respect, as real people, whose many pains and occasional pleasures she evokes with great skill and empathy.

01/07/2012

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The Washington Post

Shashi Tharoor

This is an astonishing book. It is astonishing on several levels: as a worm’s-eye view of the “undercity” of one of the world’s largest metropolises; as an intensely reported, deeply felt account of the lives, hopes and fears of people traditionally excluded from literate narratives; as a story that truly hasn’t been told before, at least not about India and not by a foreigner ... The result is a searing account, in effective and racy prose, that reads like a thrilling novel but packs a punch Sinclair Lewis might have envied.

10/02/2012

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The Financial Times

Vikas Swarup

The best non-fiction is supposed to make us rethink things and change lives, even if in a small way. Boo’s book is a wake-up call for policy makers who have been grappling with the age-old question: what do the poor really want? The desperate people of Annawadi, it turns out, want neither our charity nor our pity. They just want a level playing field in which there is some kind of correlation between effort and result.

12/05/2012

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The Guardian

Amit Chaudhuri

... a small classic of contemporary writing ... Flannery O' Connor's constricted universes, full of grotesques and buoyant improvisers, come to mind; Boo has the same concentrated vision, but more empathy. I was reminded that, though Boo was a foreigner in Annawadi, she is no foreigner to the poor, and has written much about the American poor as a journalist; the echoes of O'Connor confirm what Boo points out later, that there are revealing overlaps between the world's deprived areas.

30/06/2012

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The Independent on Sunday

Nikhil Kumar

Deploying spare, unadorned prose, Boo throws the slum-dwellers into such sharp relief that, reading the book, one has the sense of seeing them at first hand. This is a trick of the writing that succeeds because of Boo's style — the word "I" is absent from the narrative — and focus on a clutch of Annawadi's residents. The combination — the invisible reporter, the disciplined gaze — marks this book out from the recent crop of non-fiction about those on the margins of modern India.

03/06/2012

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The Literary Review

John Keay

Behind the Beautiful Forevers neither sensationalises the squalor nor judges those responsible for it. Boo’s studied understatement, her obsession with authenticity and her almost painful empathy are eloquent enough ... Honest and often deeply affecting, Katherine Boo’s book deserves a place alongside the award-winning studies of North Korea and war-torn Sarajevo by the Los Angeles Times’s Barbara Demick.

01/07/2012

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