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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  103,048 ratings  ·  11,038 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, 278 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 shatterr…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)
Adora Myers Very good question. I wish I had a happy answer. Sadly, the rich vs poor scenario has existed for thousands of years and can be found everywhere in th…moreVery good question. I wish I had a happy answer. Sadly, the rich vs poor scenario has existed for thousands of years and can be found everywhere in the world. There are 100s (thousands?) of examples of governments that dissolve under the weight of their own corruption - severe inequality being a big part of that. Personally, I suspect ALL unequal society eventually impload - they are just replaced with another slightly less unequal society until that replacement imploads...and so on.

With massive amounts of scientific and historic data at our fingertips, you would think human beings everywhere would see this and change. Yet, it continues. Why? (shrug) I don't know. I could offer suggestions about individuals acting in self-interest and...similar ideas...but that's just me waxing darkly-philosophical. I on't actually have a hard or solid answer to this question: Why does the human race refuse to act in a manner that is beneficial to the entire species? I wish I knew.(less)

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Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
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
Aug 31, 2012 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 27, 2012 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
Clare Cannon
May 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: adults, non-fiction

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
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
Petra X is enjoying a road trip across the NE USA
I first listened to an abridged version of this book and was intrigued. But I wanted a more detailed look into a world I knew existed from films and other books so although the audio version wasn't a 5 star, my interest was kindled. 2 stars for the abridged version.

The book, the real deal, dead trees and ink made from oak gall and old rubber tyres was too verbose and repetitive, I felt like saying ok, I get it, time and again. I kept wondering if the author had a) mild asperger's syndrome, b) wa
Richard Derus
Apr 30, 2012 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!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Frances Greenslade
Apr 19, 2012 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
Mar 25, 2013 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
Liz Nutting
Mar 17, 2012 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
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

3.5 Stars

“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.”

Commercial Photography

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity has a blurb even longer than its title. To briefly sum up the plot, this is a the story of Annawadi, a slum settled right in the heart of
Abhijit Srivastava
Feb 14, 2012 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 08, 2012 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
Dec 31, 2013 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
Sep 03, 2012 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 cal ...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
May 16, 2012 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
Jul 27, 2012 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
Feb 01, 2012 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,
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
Matthew Quann
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've not read a ton of narrative nonfiction, but Katherine Boo's account of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai and the people who inhabit it makes for a thrilling and moving audiobook. Boo took home the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2012 for this novel about the injustice and cyclical nature of poverty in India, so I imagine it is rather well read by my fellow Goodreadians. So instead of me telling you what the book is about (there's a synopsis) or acting like an expert on poverty (which I am n ...more
Dec 06, 2012 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
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is quite an achievement. The reportage is thorough and passionate and careful and what it does best is reveal both the simplicity and complexity of absolute poverty. Though this book is set in a Mumbai slum, it could be about nearly any place in the Third World. So much of the book echoed with what I know about the slums of Port au Prince, for example. What is also striking is seeing how the people Boo writes about have hope in circumstances, that from the outside, seem so wholly hopel ...more
Mar 28, 2012 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
Elyse  Walters
Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I started this book yesterday -- finished it this morning. (I bought this book the first week it was released --hoping and waiting for my book club to 'choose' it). --Yet--I waited long enough!

I've already had some experience living 'in-the-slums' in India. (yet, it was not called 'slums' back in 1973) -- It was called a 'poor village'.

I experienced the filth, poverty, disease (in the streets, 'almost-dead-people' sitting under filthy sinks reaching for drips of water in train bathrooms) --dirt
Jun 19, 2012 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 afterword 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 j ...more
Vikram Pathania
Dec 30, 2012 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
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic
Hell exists.

If you want to see it, visit a Mumbai slum.

Katherine Boo spent years getting to know the people of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai. She learned their hopes, their fears, the travails of their daily lives, and in behind The Beautiful Forevers she presents them in a compelling narrative that kept me glued to its pages at the same time as it broke my heart.

Through the stories of several people and families who cling to life in the stinking, ramshackle slum on the verge of the Mumbai airpor
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Trying to write a book about the slums of New Delhi is a daunting task, to say the least (and please bear in mind, I say that as a white lady whose only knowledge of India comes from a few Bollywood movies and Slumdog Millionare so if you’re looking for an analysis of how well-researched or factual Katherine Boo’s book is, this is not the review for you). Katherine Boo approaches her topic by shrinking it down to one family and one single, catastrophic event – teenage garbage picker Abdul's fami ...more
Feb 19, 2012 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
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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

Articles featuring this book

Her Favorite Books About Inequality: The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist reports on poverty in Behind the Beautiful Forevers and offers her top...
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“Much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.” 2038 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”
More quotes…