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

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  43,706 ratings  ·  6,624 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
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Kindle Edition, 290 pages
Published February 23rd 2012 by Portobello Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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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)

Community Reviews

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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
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
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.
Suzanne
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
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Clare Cannon

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
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Paul
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH KATHERINE BOO DID NOT START WELL

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.

AND THERE WAS TH
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·Karen·
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
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Frances Greenslade
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
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Petra Xtra Crunchy
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
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Liz Nutting
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
Judy
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
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Praj


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
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Diane
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
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Abhijit Srivastava
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
Bonnie_blu
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
Michael
Apr 23, 2014 Michael rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Caroline
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
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Sue
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
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Caren
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
Jill
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
Jean
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
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Shawn
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,
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Stuart
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
Vikram Pathania
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
Chrissie
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
Trish
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
Gary  the Bookworm
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
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Mikki
There is a lot to digest here and will take some time to adequately put into words. Katherine Boo has so effectively taken a subject and people most often overlooked and introduced them to the reader so intimately -- taking us into their homes, wants, struggles of life and survival -- that one is left feeling a bit disoriented after closing the book's pages. What now do I do with all of this information? It's better to know the world's injustices instead of remaining untouched, isn't it? Yes, bu ...more
Mark Petrick
I spent many months in Mumbai over a few years around the turn of the century. I've spent days walking though some of the slums of the city working on a photography project. But, nothing I've done has come close to the creating the intimate portrayal of lives challenged over time that Katherine Boo has achieved in this book. Her tenacity and dedication to telling a complete and honest story is remarkable. She is a terrific writer - it's surprising that this is her first book or that she is not b ...more
Emily
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
More about Katherine Boo...
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“...much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.” 56 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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