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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercityby Katherine Boo
Synopses & Reviews
From 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.
"A Mumbai slum offers rare insight into the lives and socioeconomic and political realities for some of the disadvantaged riding the coattails (or not) of India's economic miracle in this deeply researched and brilliantly written account by New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Boo. Divided into four parts, the narrative brings vividly to the page life as it is led today in Annawadi, a squalid and overcrowded migrant settlement of some 3,000 people squatting since 1991 on a half-acre of land owned by the Sahar International Airport. (Boo derives her title from a richly ironic real-world image: a brightly colored ad for floor tiles repeating 'Beautiful Forever' across a wall shutting out Annawadi from the view of travelers leaving the airport.) Among her subjects is the fascinating Abdul, a sensitive and cautiously hopeful Muslim teenager tirelessly trading in the trash paid for by recycling firms. Crucially, Boo's commanding ability to convey an interior world comes balanced by concern for the structural realities of India's economic liberalization (begun the same year as Annawadi's settlement), and her account excels at integrating the party politics and policy strategies behind eruptions of deep-seated religious, caste, and gender divides. Boo's rigorous inquiry and transcendent prose leave an indelible impression of human beings behind the shibboleths of the New India." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"There is a lot to like about this book: the prodigious research that it is built on, distilled so expertly that we hardly notice how much we are being taught; the graceful and vivid prose that never calls attention to itself; and above all, the true and moving renderings of the people of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi. Garbage pickers and petty thieves, victims of gruesome injustice — Ms. Boo draws us into their lives, and they do not let us go. This is a superb book." Tracy Kidder
"Kate Boo's reporting is a form of kinship. Abdul and Manju and Kalu of Annawadi will not be forgotten. She leads us through their unknown world, her gift of language rising up like a delicate string of necessary lights. There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that." Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
"I couldn't put Behind the Beautiful Forevers down even when I wanted to — when the misery, abuse and filth that Boo so elegantly and understatedly describes became almost overwhelming. Her book, situated in a slum on the edge of Mumbai's international airport, is one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I've ever read. If Bollywood ever decides to do its own version of The Wire, this would be it." Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
"It might surprise you how completely enjoyable this book is, as rich and beautifully written as a novel. In the hierarchy of long form reporting, Katherine Boo is right up there." David Sedaris
"Boo creates an intimate, unforgettable portrait of India's urban poor... Boo brilliantly brings to life the residents of Annawadi, allowing the reader to know them and admire the fierce intelligence that allows them to survive in a world not made for them. The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition." Kirkus (Starred Review)
"[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....Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"A jaw-dropping achievement, an instant classic of narrative nonfiction...With a cinematic intensity....Boo transcends and subverts every cliché, cynical or earnest, that we harbor about Indian destitution and gazes directly into the hearts, hopes, and human promise of vibrant people whom you'll not soon forget." Elle
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • Slate • The Kansas City Star
In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal.
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds — and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.
About the Author
Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.
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