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Rated 3.98
43,706 ratings

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

By: Katherine Boo

Publisher: Random House Group

Imprint: Random House

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781400067558

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  • About the Book
  • 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.
That “Beautiful” is an unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honesty, will make Boo's next awards well deserved.... Throughout such careful documentation, the one element missing – very much to her credit – is Boo herself. “Beautiful” is by no means a personal memoir; it is not a socioeconomic study on poverty or a political treatise on widespread corruption. “Beautiful” is pure, astonishing reportage with as un-biased a lens as possible trained on specific individuals in a clearly delineated section of ever-changing Mumbai.... Boo's presence as the silent reporter remains so discreet that she virtually disappears as you journey deeper and deeper, unable to turn away.
—Christian Science Monitor
[A] richly detailed tapestry of tragedy and triumph told by a seemingly omniscient narrator with an attention to detail that reads like fiction while in possession of the urgent humanity of nonfiction.
—Los Angeles Times
When publishers send bound galleys along to reviewers, they slip in acclamatory publicity sheets, gushing corporate lauds that often strain credulity. But the one folded into the galley of Katherine Boo's astonishing new book, "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity," while lauding plenty, claims far too little. That's how fascinating and virtuosic, and good-quirky this book is.... To accomplish this writing, Boo has performed a feat of access and candid reportage that amounts to a devotion.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Boo describes what happens when opportunity accrues to the already privileged in the age of globalization, governments remain dysfunctional and corrupt, and, with most citizens locked into a fantasy of personal wealth and consumption, hope, too, is privatized, sundered from any notions of collective well-being. In this sense, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is not just about India's delusory new culture of aspiration.... Transcending its geographical setting, the book also provides a bracing antidote to the ideological opiates of recent decades — those that made the worldwide proliferation of gray zones appear part of a “great success narrative.”
—New York Times
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. But most of all, it is astonishing that it exists at all.... Overcoming the obstacles to effective reporting posed by her class, gender, ethnicity and language, Boo follows their lives and experiences in an effort to understand the problems of poverty from the bottom up. 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.... Boo keeps herself entirely out of the narrative until an author's note at the end, which gives her account an intimacy and immediacy that are unchallengeable.
—Washington Post
[A]s good a reporter as she is, Boo is an even better storyteller: this bravura work of nonfiction reads more like a novel for the gratifying completeness of its characters and the journey they travel over the course of several months in 2008, centering on the shocking death of a female resident of the slum and a young man who is falsely accused of her murder.... Boo's writing skills are such that she can render even a dirty slum lovely...and on a deeper level, extract sublime irony from a seemingly straightforward news story.
—Seattle Times
The narrative nonfiction writer walks a fine line. You must remain fascinated with your subjects, hew to the truth, resist prettying things up and avoid editorializing. If you are Katherine Boo, the author of the exceptional "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," you also have the compassion and steel to spend three years writing about residents of a Mumbai slum, and to do so without appearing to blink.... With "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," her first book, Boo puts herself on the podium with the best writers of the genre, Krakauer and Orlean, Langewiesche and Larson.
—Portland Oregonian
...original, detailed and so unbearably sad... Beautiful brings alive an almost unimaginably harsh world through the stories of individuals trying to make their way in a place few of us can imagine.
—USA Today
Like most of Boo's work, "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" reads like fiction, and sometimes you'll wish it were. Still, thanks to her careful, nuanced perception of the complex individuals living in "a single, unexceptional slum," the book doesn't devolve into poverty porn.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
Nominally about a teenage garbage sorter wrongly accused of a crime, "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" is a searing investigation of the ways in which the striving of slum dwellers is stymied by infighting, corruption and economic fluctuations. It is also a brilliant novelistic narration of three years in the life of a slum named Annawadi, which has grown to accommodate 3,000 people across the street from Mumbai's international airport.
—Wall Street Journal
“Zehrunisa Husain was a tear-factory even on good days; it was one of her chief ways of starting conversations,” Katherine Boo writes in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” her 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.
—New York Times
That “Beautiful” is an unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honesty, will make Boo's next awards well-deserved.... “Beautiful” is pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible about specific individuals who populate a clearly demarcated section of ever-changing Mumbai.
—Christian Science Monitor
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