A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi
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A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  466 ratings  ·  99 reviews
Like Dave Eggers's Zeitoun and Alexander Masters's Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage.

Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician's apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of friends to li...more
Hardcover, 230 pages
Published October 22nd 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 25th 2011)
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City of Djinns by William DalrympleThe Zoya Factor by Anuja ChauhanA Free Man by Aman SethiIt's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned VizziniPirate Modernity by Ravi Sundaram
Non-Fiction Books Set In Delhi
2nd out of 8 books — 5 voters
Running the Rift by Naomi BenaronIt's Fine By Me by Per PettersonReinventing the Meal by Pavel G. SomovA Free Man by Aman SethiThe Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
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4th out of 5 books — 2 voters


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Community Reviews

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Sankarshan
The blurbs rave about it. If you can stop smirking at the obviously PR induced sound-bytes and look inside the book you'd find it worth a read. In fact it is a recommended read. The writing might be a bit similar to a rushed notes in journal kind but the acute sense of 'people watching' and, awareness of language ('helpery' - a word that I last heard in the college canteen from the canteen attendant) make it a good reason to stick till the end. And, at the end you'd ask yourself whether you were...more
Erin
I absolutely loved this book--actually finished it in one night! Aman Sethi does an amazing job transporting the reader to Delhi. The people he chose to write about are colorful and insightful. I hope the author decides to do more research on the lives of those struggling in the slums of India. It's a section of the global population that is largely ignored. I truly felt like I was given a window inside the lives of these interesting people.
Maheep
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrice Hoffman
*Won through a a Goodreads Giveaway*

If I were walking through the aisles of my favorite book store, I would probably have not given this book a second glance. I ususally don't read too many biographies so I can only review this book based on how entertaining and enlightening it is for me. A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi is a rather short book and I was able to read it in one sitting and has a pretty interesting voice that isn't stoic or depressing, as I have found some biogra...more
Gourav Gupta
Thought provoking and realistic- whether it's the life of a laavaris, what if I was the one in Ashraf's shoes? What does it feel to be anonymous with nowhere to go, no door to knock on? , or the unpolished language used in the book or the casualness of the casual labourers and of life at Bara Tutti. The book, for most parts, is both a little haunting and disturbing and yet, rejoices the prosaic and trivial nuances of everday life which the privilaged ones take for granted.

Ashraf's life is a mos...more
Emily Boivin
I WAS SO PLEASED WHEN I WON THIS BOOK ON GOODREADS. I THOUGHT THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST THOUGHT PROVOKING BOOKS I HAVE READ IN A VERY LONG TIME. IF YOU WANT A GREAT READ YOU NEED TO PICK UP THIS BOOK.
Kammie
Sep 24, 2012 Kammie marked it as to-read
Shelves: first-reads
I love books about India, so this sounded VERY interesting! I can't wait to get it and to read it.
Ankur
when i bought this book, i had no idea it was as much a story of Delhi, as it is of the protagonist - md Ashraf. And that was a pleasant surprise!

For this gem, and gem of a book it is - is not the story of Delhi that we see in Khushwant Singh's Delhi or Dalrymple's City of Djinns! this is the story of the Modern Delhi - the 'glistening metropolis of a rising Asian superpower' - A city constantly under construction and the biggest magnet around for migrants from Northern India. And its brutally h...more
Blue
Thank you Goodreads First Reads for this great book!

At a point in my life when I feel tied down to a not-so-great job, desperately looking for a better one, or fantasizing about irrational alternatives (like opening an indie bookstore!) to be free of dysfunctional offices and bad bosses, the idea of working and living wherever and whenever you want, working for money and living until the money runs out, leaving a city at the drop of a hat to go live and work somewhere else for a few days or mont...more
C.P.
**I received this book free of charge courtesy of Goodreads First Reads Giveaways**


Wow. Just wow. This book has left me speechless, I am sure I cannot do it justice in a written review but I will try.
This is the true story of one reporter who followed homeless workmen throughout their day on/off for years in Old Delhi. In particular a man named Mohammed Ashraf. He wanted to get their perspective on things and used an audio recorder & hand written notes throughout his interviews with them. T...more
Hera Diani
Amid the streets of Bara Tooti Chowk, one of New Delhi’s oldest and largest labor markets, and in between marijuana joints, shots of cheap liquor and good old tea, Mohammed Ashraf offers insights on what it is to become a 40-year-old (“a man starts to fear strangers”) on the career ladder for construction workers, and the creed of his profession. “Azadi, Aman bhai, Azadi. Azadi,” says the house painter. “Azadi is the freedom to tell the maalik to f**k off when you want to.”

Ashraf is the main cha...more
Dylan Mcarthur
What is a human being worth? James Joyce lampooned the typical thinking on this in Ulysses: "You love a certain person and this person loves that other person because everybody loves somebody but God loves everybody." God may, but humankind sure doesn't---if you need proof, take a look at modern-day India. "A Free Man" tries to understand the life of day-laborer Mohammad Ashraf, an itinerant alcoholic with a past full of painful failure. The book begins cheerfully---Ashraf claims that his way of...more
Lisa
I've begun to think that people generally think it's politically incorrect to give negative reviews of books about very sad circumstances. I am empathetic about the very poor people in Delhi and I think this book portrays the situation I observed there well. The topic and increasing awareness of the poverty and abuse are important. But independent of that this book is really bad. It might have worked as an article but there isn't enough material for a book and the manuscript hasn't been worked e...more
Danielle
Received this book as a winner of a FirstReads competition. Definitely would recommend it for a colorful, thought-provoking look into Indian culture. The characters are great and kept me interested. I love the opening into the book, as it really grabbed my attention and kept me interested throughout the read. The only complaint I have is that there was a lot of vocabulary I was unfamiliar with because I am not native to the culture. It wasn't really explained throughout the read, so I had to loo...more
Angie
I very much enjoyed reading this book. I struggled with the first part of the book trying to wrap my mind around all the foreign words and phrases. As I became more familiar with the writing and characters it became easy to lose myself into this book. This is a book that I most likely would never have experienced without the Goodreads First Reads program and I will forever be greatful for the opportunity to share in the lives of the author and characters even for a short time. I would recommend...more
Mythili
A really original, insightful look at the life of a Delhi day-laborer. I learned so much from this book -- about Delhi's tiered liquor laws (one set of rules for Indian booze, another for Western booze), about the shifting kinds of work opportunities available for India's underclass, about TB hospitals ... Aman Sethi's approach (of essentially living on the streets with his subjects) is a bold one and it works, but with some complex consequences; by the end of the book I wondered whether his "fr...more
Bo Nobo Nobo
Ever wondered what chilling with some street laborers in Delhi would be like? Well join Aman Sethi on a journey to India's capital city. Sethi will make you laugh, get sentimental, maybe even shed a few tears as you dive into the hard life endured by the masdoors/laborers.

This book was suggested by Oprah.com as a suggested read and I am glad I read it.

I read the book but also listened to it before bed sometimes and I was impressed by Vikas Adam's reading. So, check out the novel either in it's...more
Neil Gilbert
The first two thirds of this book justified the failure of trying to write a book relying on an uncooperative biographee. The last third was his story - which was interesting but not worth the effort of reading that far. This book may have been better suited to a short story. I found the language in the book difficult to understand, as every third word was an unexplained Indian term or location that I was unfamiliar with. I love books about the culture and people of India, like Aravind Adiga's T...more
Jenee Rager
I won this book on goodreads, and was under the impression that it was a work of fiction till it arrived. I quickly realized it was actually non-fiction, and adjusted my expectations. I felt that this story struggled to find a cohesive story line for the first 2/3 of the book. It was just kind of a random series of stories and you didn't really feel connected to one character or another. The final third of the story things to come together and are quite enjoyable.
Sadiq Kazi
Another great reportage on the lines of Katherine Boo's 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers'. This one though preceded the latter. Few books are as moving in their narrative as this one depicting the lives of the day labourers, and particularly memorable is the life of one such - Mohammed Ashraf!
Thaths
A well-written, compassionate view of migrant laborers in Delhi and their lives (what do they do, how do they live their lives, where are they from, how did they end up there)
Surbhi
I just loved the characters so much . A really interesting read.

The life of the indian labour continues to be harrowing. Its really leaves one out of sorts
But the intriguing characters really keep you hooked. Ashraf himself is a work of art . His quirky
companions are no less . Kalyani, Lalloo, Rehaan ,J.P. All are superlative.
the stories of rehaan were especially delightful.
I got teary eyed towards the end .it was an amazing experience.
And i loved the use of hindi words . For once in a novel i...more
Vikas
A free man, for sure will never leave your mind free of thoughts, once you have put down the book. It’s one of the rare books which will leave an impact on you for a long time. I guess it will take a long time for me to avoid thinking of Ashraf's character when I look at laborers’ sleeping on the pavement and wondering how long they have been away from home and for what reason.
In a very subtle but detailed narration author has brought in very touchy topics. The BIS system for beggars, the condit...more
Minakshi Ramji
One of two of the most extraordinary books on urban poverty in India, the other being behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo.

http://brickmag.com/conversation-kath...
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Sarah
//A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi// by Aman Sethi is a great read, a book comfortable in its own skin just like the people it portrays. Sethi started out with the intent to tell the life story of one man, Ashraf, but his attempts to fill in a “timeline” are waylaid over the course of five years. Sethi fortunately wrote the book anyway, depicting the travails and explaining the tenets of street life of laborers in Bara Tooti Bazaar, featuring Ashraf and others whom he formed f...more
Christopher Litsinger
This was a fairly interesting book focused on day labor in Delhi, and one laborer in particular. It wasn't brilliant, but it kept my interest and had its moments:
But why am I telling you about Raja again? How did we start this conversation? I remember now — I was telling you the way home from Raja’s house. But for that I had to first tell you where his house was and then of course how he got the house. Funny how every short story is actually just the beginning of a really long one.

‘The santrash
...more
Sairam Krishnan
This is a brilliant book. I read it in a single sitting, and never once strayed from the sentences that have so beautifully described a life, that indeed, we may never hope to know or understand.

Ashraf is a strange man, someone who lives life in a world completely unlike what we, as ordinary people live in, and Aman Sethi's account is a sparkling triumph of narrative reportage. I have always understood narrative journalism to be an attempt to tell a story, albeit a story we might otherwise never...more
Terri
A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi by Aman Sethi is a hard look into the lives of those work live on the streets and work enough to just get by in Dehli and other cities in India. The book focuses in particular on a man name Ashraf and his group of companions. For much of the book, Ashraf is reluctant to give the author more than a few anecdotes from his life, but eventually the author is able to gather more information about what his life was like before he ended up on the stre...more
Aseem Kaul
A fascinating look at the life of day laborers in Delhi, A Free Man is both an exceptional work of journalism and a compelling character study. Deeply embedded in the milieu he seeks to describe, Sethi delivers an account that is as vivid as it is authentic: his pitch perfect ear for dialog renders conversations that made me (as someone who attended high school and college in Delhi) homesick, his keen eye for telling detail provided the exact balance between the personal and the general, and his...more
Prakriti
It was fun to read (very quotable, deliberate?) and a quick, brisk read, but it was unmistakably poverty porn. The ONLY reason it worked the way it worked is because you cannot imagine yourself living like that, with that much money to wrangle. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with tasteful poverty porn. Also as far as poverty porn goes, this is subtly and beautifully done. Aman has weaved himself into the stories very well, and the stark difference to his own life is also beautifully part...more
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