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

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  71,211 Ratings  ·  8,933 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
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 7th 2012 by Random House
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Abhineet This book is not easy to read, let me be clear. The reason why I say so is the way author has put across the irony of our existences is quite…moreThis book is not easy to read, let me be clear. The reason why I say so is the way author has put across the irony of our existences is quite shatterring! I am an Indian National and a lot of this is already heard of, and still the insight is profoundly beautiful along with a courageous display of hopes. I would suggest that you buy the book without comparing it with any of your previous reads! :)(less)
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Virginia Hoyt
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I struggled a lot with how to review this because it's hard to separate the quality of the book from how it made me feel. So let me first say that Katherine Boo is an excellent writer and a dedicated observer. The book often reads like a novel, although it may not be the kind of novel you'd want to read.

Life in the Annawadi slum is brutal, and sometimes your neighbors are the ones most determined to make you suffer. The specific residents Boo chose to follow over a four-year period ended up emb
Paul Bryant
Mar 10, 2014 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing
Shelves: india

What, we need another well-off well-bred well-fed well-educated white person to tell us about the miseries of extreme poverty in the developing world? Because we just know the poor people couldn’t tell us themselves. It’s like in so many movies about the poor countries, you have to have a white guy as the hero – The Last King of Scotland, which is about Uganda, or The Constant Gardener, about Kenya; and lots more. I hate that.

Feb 02, 2015 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
This is much scarier than any STEPHEN KING novel. I KEPT ON ASKING HOW THIS COULD NOT BE FICTION. I knew that Mumbai was impoverished, in the past. Yet , I read about the growing middle and professional classes. I saw specials on TV, which showed beautiful new apartment complexes.
According to Boo's book,the "Undercity" is still there. It is being squished as the planners grab every inch from the poor. The corruption of every institution is more pervasive than I can imagine. I wished that this w
Richard Derus
Aug 09, 2016 Richard Derus rated it really liked it
It's National Book Lovers Day! A day to bask in the amazing power of books to inform, amuse, educate, and alter our views and viewpoints.

Rating: four horrfied, repulsed, politically appalled stars of five

See the review on Shelf Inflicted!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Clare Cannon
Aug 26, 2016 Clare Cannon rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, adults

I knew this wouldn't be a feel-good book, but somehow the evocative title and the tragically poetic cover led me to be unprepared for the shocks that awaited from page one right through to the end.

My advice to all who want to read it: first, read the author's note at the end, it is excellent. It situates the book in its proper context and prepares you to take it seriously. Without this anchor, the melodrama of the narrative seems like Days of Our Lives set in Indian slums. But apart from the au
Frances Greenslade
May 22, 2012 Frances Greenslade rated it really liked it
It's too easy to criticize this book. I had three days to spend in Mumbai this February, and, reading my Lonely Planet guidebook, I considered undertaking a "slum tour." According to Lonely Planet, there was a company that did it right, a "sensitive" tour. An Indian man I met had also recommended it. I even called the company. But I had to ask myself who had what to gain by it. And I couldn't go through with it because it was a question I couldn't answer. I'd seen the slums from the air, as we d ...more
Riku Sayuj

It often happens that I stay up with a book overnight because it is too good to be put down for something as mundane as sleep.

But it is a rare occurrence when I finish a book, turn the last page and go straight back to the beginning again, without even pausing to consider, without even thinking of a re-read, without a thought for the warm inviting bed (and without a thought even for the absurd challenge that looms in front of all reading towards the end of a year).

But this shockingly, heart-wr
Apr 19, 2013 ·Karen· rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, here’s a nice irony, to be reading this in the week that the results of a UNICEF survey reveal that one in seven German children and young people are unhappy, dissatisfied with their life or situation. Germany ranks only 22nd in the category ‘life satisfaction’ . Tssk tssk. All those poor little rich kids.

It would be a horrendously hackneyed platitude to now bang on about those who are worse off than you – what’s that supposed to say? Look, look, children, look at Mumbai garbage scavengers
Petra Eggs
Rewritten in light of the fact that not even I could understand it due to errors caused by several glasses of very, very expensive wine I had been treated to. (view spoiler)

I first listened to an abridged version of this book and was intrigued. It was a more detailed look into a world I knew existed from films and other books. It was more my interest was kindled than I really enjoyed listening to it - the abridgemen
Liz Nutting
Apr 16, 2012 Liz Nutting rated it it was amazing
A former professor of mine once related to me a story of the time he escorted Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire, author of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, on a driving tour of North Philadelphia. To most Americans, North Philly is the kind of neighborhood that defines poverty. Vacant and burned out houses, trash-filled streets and rampant drug crime. To Freire, however, North Philadelphia was a rich place--not rich in spirit or hope or faith, but rich as in wealthy, having money, not p ...more
Boo won me over when she presented the impoverished people of Annawadi as individuals with worries, ambitions and desires as everyday as yours or mine rather than victims. I found myself brokenhearted by the recurrent police and governmental corruption they must wade through in order to just exist. Apparently, it isn't enough that most are ill from their habitats and scorned by society. In spite of their loss of dreams and position, I was impressed by the resilience of most.

This book received a
Abhijit Srivastava
Feb 14, 2012 Abhijit Srivastava rated it really liked it
Stare. Stare straight. That’s the first thing I did after finishing reading it, and for quite a long time. I didn’t know what I was looking at, or more aptly, looking for – of course, there was this wall ahead, 3 feet ahead – but I wasn’t looking at it; I was looking for ‘faces’; faces that I’ve imagined floating between my eyes and the pages of the book while I was reading it; faces that don’t resemble anyone I know, but faces that might resemble closely with the people living right now, even a ...more
Feb 12, 2013 Praj rated it liked it

It’s been a distressful morning. The milkman won’t be delivering the daily liter of milk; his house was razed by the local municipality. The family of six has to do with a makeshift shanty to prevent them from drowning in the dense showers of late night rains. Futile visits to the local political corporator and pleading to a rigid money-lender for a loan is what his weekly schedule looks like. Troublesome as it is for a detour to the supermarket for packaged milk, my domestic help decided to ca
Sep 02, 2014 Diane rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing story about families who live and work in a Mumbai slum. Katherine Boo spent years reporting in the airport settlement of Annawadi, and the book unfolds like a novel. It's a fascinating look at how the underclass tries to survive and get ahead in a 21st-century economy.

One of the things I found most interesting was how the families were constantly fighting with others in the slum, literally over scraps. And the police, the courts, the hospitals -- everyone, really -- were so
Mar 05, 2012 Bonnie_blu rated it liked it
I was excited about reading this book after reading the reviews; however, it did not live up to the kudos. I found it disjointed and strangely unaffecting for most of its length, and even boring some of the time. I was raised in great poverty, and have a first-hand understanding of its effects. Extreme poverty usually strips "civilized" behavior from individuals and groups. When resources are scarce to non-existent, humans generally resort to whatever means necessary to ensure their survival. Se ...more
May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it liked it
Shelves: world
My final impressions of the book 1/5/2014:

So, now I have finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers.... and I must say, unlike the bulk of people who have read it, I still have issues with it.

I would have infinitely preferred it if the author written a straightforward novel, based on her research, and friendships made in the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. My favourite novels are about different cultures (using the term in its broadest sense), but cultures that have been superbly researched, and therefore
As I started to read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I expected a book akin to poverty porn, a literary version of those awful commercials that broadcast photos of downtrodden children on squalid streets whom you can save for only “one dollar a day!” But what I read was both a meticulous character study and a treatise on the livelihoods of an undercity; a protest against all forms of corruption and a captivating, almost seemingly fictitious, legal narrative; a celebration of 21st century free-mar ...more
Apr 23, 2014 Michael rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Michael by: Riku Sayuj
I was greatly moved, and mostly uplifted, by this narrative account of the daily life and careers of real individuals and families in a slum near Mumbai’s airport called Annawadi. The contrast between the economic “haves” and “have nots” is so blatant here. Behind a wall emblazoned with an ad for tiles that will be “beautiful forever”, about 3,000 people live in 335 huts out of site from users of the modern airport and its luxury hotels. For most of us, an image or a vignette would be enough to ...more
Jul 29, 2012 Shawn rated it liked it
What disturbed Me most about this book is that it didn't disturb Me more. How is it that a book about the poorest, most exploited, ignored, trodden upon people didn't evoke more feeling or sustain more engagement? I spent the entire reading reminding myself that these were real people so that I would endeavor to feel something toward their story.

I'm not sure if it was the choice of writing style -- that of making the story "feel like a novel" -- that made this so easy to disengage from or not,
Dec 06, 2012 Jean rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
If you liked Slumdog Millionaire you will probably like this book. I hated Slumdog Millionaire and I didn't like this book. I know it's a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I really tried. Just couldn't get into it.

It's about Annawadi, a slum that grew up in the area of the airport in Mumbai. Boo tells the stories of several people who are trying to rise above their situations. Abdul is a smart teenager who sells scrap metal and is saving to move out. Asha is a woman who is trying to use political powe
Jul 06, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: Mikki
As Katherine Boo states in her Author's Note,

"If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on
which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything
lie straight?"

This applies not only to one of the key incidents in her narrative but to all of India--it's judicial system, schools, police, economy, benevolent organizations. The crookedness and crumbling are everywhere and the people Boo chooses to visit and document over several years are those on the society's bottom rung.

This is a diffic
Feb 21, 2012 Caren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I had read that this book was well-written and would probably win some awards, which is why I picked it up. Wow! I read through practically in one gulp, hardly coming up for air. This is one compelling read, and the truly stunning thing about it is that it is all true. You simply cannot walk away untouched. The author is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered social inequalities in the past. This is her first book, in which she chronicles several years (from late 2007 to early 2011) ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Mar 05, 2012 Gary the Bookworm rated it it was amazing
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
This is an essential book for anyone who cares about the plight of slum dwellers around the world. Ms Boo has written a powerful, unforgettable description of a slum in Mumbai which is teetering on the brink of annihilation. The residents eke out a miserable day-to-day existence grateful that they haven't yet joined the multitude of pavement dwellers whose lives are even more abject. The reader would like to imagine that she made this up. The fact that it depicts the underbelly of the economic
Vikram Pathania
Dec 30, 2012 Vikram Pathania rated it it was ok
A much hyped book - I had heard and read a lot about it including high praise from some usually trusty sources. While it started on a promising note and held my attention until about the halfway mark, I could sense a growing disappointment with both style and substance. The crisp writing aims to punch you in the guts as the unrelenting sequence of misery and death unfolds page after page. I get it - life in a Mumbai sluim is brutish but the writing style tries too hard to shock and quickly left ...more
Feb 24, 2013 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio, history, india, audible
This book leaves you feeling devastated. Yes, I am glad I listened to it. I listened to the audiobook narrated perfectly by Sunil Malhorta. The shrill women voices are really spot on! The author herself narrates the Afterwards which explains the author's methodology. Friends recommended that I listen to that first, which I did, but I listened to it again after completing the book. Reading this part twice is what I advise. The first time allows you to listen to the details of the individuals and ...more
Jan 02, 2013 Stuart rated it really liked it
In many ways, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an impressive achievement. Boo goes into a slum in Mumbai and somehow manages to find detail after detail about the inner lives of its inhabitants. She then assembles those details into a novelistic treatment of how an interconnected group of citizens lives and takes each precarious day at a time. As Boo points out more than once, these people are not of the lowest of India's economic classes. They have roofs over their heads, they have sources of r ...more
Narrative nonfiction is a genre that is becoming increasingly fascinating to me. Like creative nonfiction (or memoir) it is written with fictive qualities, but is based on fact and detailed reporting. Bravo to Katherine Boo for highlighting children's and women's issues in this nicely crafted piece. If you're more interested in the imaginary world of fiction, don't read this because although this reads as fiction, it is raw material derived from the true stories of people who struggle every day. ...more
Oct 20, 2016 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reporting, india, work
One of those books that gets better with a re-read. There is so much here. It makes a good book to use in reading classes.

Old Review:

So wow. Using the micro chasm of a few families in an Indian slum, Boo looks at how economic forces control lives for removed for the big CEO.

The thing I found most interesting is that while there is no real moral compass, there is no condemning of various people at all. Take the character of Asha; it would've been very easy for Boo to make her a total bitch, but
This is a difficult book to read. I actually think we might get more out of it on a second, deeper reading, once the horror of the subject matter has been fully revealed and we have braced ourselves. Boo is very matter of fact about the most stomach-churning realities of life in a Mumbai slum and after listening to Sunil Malhotra, the reader of the audiobook, relate all this in several hundreds of pages and hours of listening, one begins to wonder why Boo wrote it this way. Life is so miserable ...more
Jan 29, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing
The tone of this nonfiction reportage is troublesome; Katherine Boo is very deeply inside the thoughts of her subjects, the garbage-picker denizens of a Mumbai slum. The tone is novelistic, and by treating them as "characters," she seems to be obscurely depriving her subjects of the agency and actuality of real people. Is it presumptuous or disrespectful? Three chapters in, I flipped ahead to the afterword that explains Boo's process, which I recommend doing if you're bothered by the tone (even ...more
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Katherine (Kate) J. Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. She learned to report at the alternative weekly, Washington City Paper, after which she worked as a writer and co-editor of The Washington Monthly magazine. Over the years, her reporting from disadvantaged communities has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, a ...more
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“Much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.” 1716 likes
“What you don't want is always going to be with you
What you want is never going to be with you
Where you don't want to go, you have to go
And the moment you think you're going to live more, you're going to die”
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