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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

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  674 ratings  ·  114 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
Hardcover, 230 pages
Published October 22nd 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 25th 2011)
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Running the Rift by Naomi BenaronA Free Man by Aman SethiIt's Fine By Me by Per PettersonReinventing the Meal by Pavel G. SomovThe Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
Goodreads First Reads
2nd out of 5 books — 5 voters
City of Djinns by William DalrympleDelhi by Sam MillerIt's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned VizziniLove, Heartbreak, Repeat? by Kunal KhuranaThe Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan
Non-Fiction Books Set In Delhi
3rd out of 9 books — 8 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
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.
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
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
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
Refreshingly honest. Would say it's better than Katherine Boo's 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' - it's much more personal and sensitive to the author's position in the class/caste hierarchy.
Emily Boivin
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.
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
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
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
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
**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
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
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
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
Umesh Kesavan
A poignant portrait of a day-labourer's life in Delhi. Aman Sethi has enough scope to dramatize the happenings yet he keeps things subtle. What "Behind the beautiful forevers" did for Mumbai, "A free man" does for Delhi. Yet another glowing torchbearer for narrative non-fiction based in India.
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
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 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
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
Amit Gupta
‘A Free Man’ by Aman Sethi is humorous yet disturbing work of non-fiction. The main subject of this remarkable work of reportage is Mohammed Ashraf, a 40-year-old safediwallah (painter) and construction worker. Sethi, a journalist with The Hindu, first encounters Ashraf while working on a story about various ‘types’ of construction workers (namely mistrys, beldars, karigars, mazdoor, rickshaw-pullers, plumbers). Subsequently, when he needed personnel for a research project he’d taken up on “the ...more
Aman Mittal
A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi by Aman Sethi is something different from the normal books. It does not has a grabbing impact but if you start it, somehow you will want to read this book. Same happened with me over the past two days. 230 pages, I ended up reading them. I never got the feeling of being hooked by it's words but in awe of reading something different and something based on my home-town New Delhi, I wanted to give it a try.

The major part of the novel is set in New
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!
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)
[Audiobook] At first I didn't enjoy this book and I almost stopped listening to it. Then I began to understand it for what it is. I realized how I've read biographies of "great" men like Washington and Lincoln. This book was not about someone like that, but rather it explored the life of a laborer in India. Listening to it, I not only gained much more knowledge about what life in India is like for many people, but I also gained an appreciation for human life in general. Everyone has a story. Jus ...more
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
A Free Man - Aman Sethi 6-28-14

Indian born, Columbia School of Journalism educated Aman Sethi befriends a group of homeless day laborers in a New Delhi slum, and over several years listens to their histories, their misadventures, and their dreams. It’s full of lively description, dialogue, and humor (and alcohol). One chapter describes the municipal program to arrest and imprison beggars (for up to ten years!). Part of the plan is to fingerprint each arrested beggar in order to catch reoffenders
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Indian Readers: A Free Man 1 19 May 09, 2013 12:10AM  
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