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

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  822 Ratings  ·  136 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
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ebook, 240 pages
Published October 22nd 2012 by W. W. Norton Company (first published July 25th 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
Sep 30, 2012 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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Gourav Gupta
Jun 13, 2012 Gourav Gupta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Chetana
Jul 23, 2015 Chetana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Maheep
May 20, 2012 Maheep rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ankur
Aug 21, 2011 Ankur rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, 2011
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
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Angie
Aug 27, 2012 Angie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Emily Boivin
Sep 17, 2012 Emily Boivin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I love books about India, so this sounded VERY interesting! I can't wait to get it and to read it.
Hera Diani
Jan 01, 2013 Hera Diani rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
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
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C.P.
Aug 20, 2012 C.P. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
**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
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Blue
Sep 23, 2012 Blue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Vikas
Apr 04, 2013 Vikas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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Dylan Mcarthur
Nov 26, 2012 Dylan Mcarthur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 29, 2012 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 26, 2012 Danielle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mythili
Jan 26, 2012 Mythili rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Bo Nobo Nobo
Jan 23, 2013 Bo Nobo Nobo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
May 02, 2013 Sadiq Kazi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
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.
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)
Ardita
May 28, 2017 Ardita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
A friend gifted her old Kindle to me and this was among the books she read.

Having gone through chock-full of Bollywood movies to decompress work-related stress a couple of years back and finished reading a couple of books on the chaotic region i.e Mohsin Hamid's "How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia" and Benazir Bhutto's autobiography "Daughter of the East", this book has similar topic: poverty, a bit of politics, and a bit of rags to riches. The difference lies in Aman Sethi's work is a journa
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Dave
Jul 21, 2017 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sethi gives a revealing glimpse into the lives of day laborers in Delhi and Calcutta. He humanizes them with the many details of their dreams, schemes, sorrows, and infrequent victories. To a man, they lack any supportive relationships from family members, and one by one they die tragic deaths in their 30’s or 40’s. x

What does it mean to be "free"? Free from knowing the names of your children? From knowing whether your mother is alive or dead? From ever having enough money to settle down in one
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Bruce Thomas
This will end up a bit forgettable, but still a short and interesting book about a journalist who embedded himself in the labor working class of India. Goes to the basics of living - working to survive another day and getting by with a lot of alcohol and marijuana.
Tony Summer
This is about the working poor in contemporary India, mostly situated in Delhi. Somewhat Dickensian, though without the sentimentality, it was interesting and entertaining, but not as good as the hyperbolic reviews on the dust jacket would lead one to expect. I guess those reviewers are the author's journalist friends. Fortunately, I did not read the reviews until I had finished the book. If I had read them before, they would have put me off it.
Faheem Gundroo
Mar 02, 2016 Faheem Gundroo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

If you hover in the air around Bara Tooti Chowk, Sadar Bazar, Pahargunj, Azad Market on a Alladin Carpet, straight out of an Arabian Night spaceship and point your finger on one of the thousands, millions of Delhites denizens, scurrying for space beneath; some pedaling on their rickshaws- transporting over-weight passengers from New Delhi railway station, drudging along, exhausting last bit of their muscle energy, at times standing tall on their pedals, to thrust the rickshaw forward with force;
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“When the news of the creature broke, it was possible that the victims had attributed to the Monkeyman injuries that they had unknowingly inflicted on themselves in their sleep.

'It could be mass hysteria caused by mass media,' he concluded.

Dr. Desai's report lay on my desk for many days: a snap-shot of a city splintering under the strain of a fundamental urban reconfiguration- a city of the exhausted, distressed, and restless, struggling with the uncertainties of eviction and unemployment; a city of twenty million histrionic personas resiliently absorbing the day's glancing blows only to return home and tenderly claw themselves to sleep.”
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