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A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi Hardcover – October 22, 2012


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A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi + Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (October 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393088901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393088908
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.” (Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers)

“Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, A Free Man is an extraordinary vignette into an extraordinary life.” (Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies)

A Free Man is a brilliant capturing of the language and bloodstream of a city. Aman Sethi has made a book that’s remarkable in its voice and evocation.” (Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient)

A Free Man is stunning. It reminds me of that Victorian masterpiece of investigative journalism, Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor. Aman Sethi ‘gets’ modern India better than any other journalist I know. Not only is he a remarkable reporter and storyteller, but he possesses a novelist’s ear for language, sense of the absurd, and perfect pitch. I’m bowled over, totally.” (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius)

A Free Man is a beautiful work of journalism, sympathetic and graceful. The author follows, and progressively befriends, a homeless day laborer in Delhi. What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend.” (Esther Duflo, author of Poor Economics and MacArthur Fellow)

“With A Free Man, Aman Sethi comes to the forefront of an extraordinary new generation of Indian nonfiction writers. His compassion and humor is matched by a fierce determination to tell the stories of ordinary Indians, too often forgotten in the scramble for the spoils of the economic boom.” (Hari Kunzru, author of Gods Without Men)

“Funny and disturbing.” (Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things)

A Free Man makes no promise of a happy ending. Perhaps no book about contemporary Indian society can. But it delivers more. It takes readers on a journey they might otherwise not go on. And that the destination is neither secret nor hidden shows that sometimes what matters isn’t what’s beyond our reach. It’s what’s before our eyes.” (Sonia Faleiro - New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Aman Sethi was born in Bombay in 1983 and attended the Columbia School of Journalism. He is a correspondent for The Hindu and the recipient of an International Committee of the Red Cross award for his reportage.

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

A wonderful companion book to Katherine Boos', 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers'.
L. Young
The reporter does a good job of piecing the stories together, and telling with humor and compassion and without extraneous judgement.
Greyman
I read it on kindle and thought it was so good that I also bought a hard copy to share with friends.
Peter R. Ramsey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By JJ Kayame on November 1, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
This is an incredibly powerful, funny and moving portrait of real-life India, a side that is rarely discussed - the millions who live in the slums and back-alleys, hustling to stay alive and find meaning in their struggle. If their stories reach us at all, it is usually to paint some harrowing image of poverty and misery - Sethi's amazing achievement is to show his characters as real, engaging people. The main character, Ashraf, falls into that grand category of the street philosopher, something like an Indian Neil Cassidy perhaps, who finds freedom in his ability to move endlessly from city to city, never building roots, always running from one set of trouble to the next. Except these are not adolescents seeking hedonism, but people trying to make the most of a situation that might otherwise send them into despair.

Sethi's many frustrations in dealing with the slippery customers are often hilarious, but clearly he has devoted a huge amount of time, understanding and sympathy to these people. His easy-going style gives way to terribly moving passages, and make this one of the most important non-fiction narrative books to appear from the burgeoning Indian literary scene.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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?
Once you pick up this book you will not be able to put it down.
India’s vast working class — mistrys, beldars, karigars, mazdoor, rickshaw-pullers, plumbers — are largly rendered invisible. They are everywhere you see, and yet, nowhere seen.
You meet these people, live their lives, laugh and cry with them.
The author's narrative is held together by his attempts to interview Ashraf. Over a period of time, he forms a bond with Ashraf and his labourer friends — the crazy Lalloo, the muscular Rehaan, the dying Satish, Kaka the tea seller, and many others. He smokes with them, drinks with them, gets stoned with them, and becomes more involved in the lives of his subjects than a journalist might be expected to, something that is impossible to avoid when professional interest develops into a human relationship.
You also get to meet Sharmaji, a raiding officer for the Department of Social Welfare. Sharmaji’s job is to catch beggars and have them tried and punished at the Beggars Court in north Delhi. And he is under a lot of work pressure because his department has to make Delhi “beggar free in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010.”
Ashraf's last words to Sethi the journalist who is trying to get the timeline of his life:
“That’s it, Aman bhai. Now you know everything about me — sab kuch. Like a government form: name, date of birth, mother’s name, place of residence, everything. Our faces are pasted in your notebook, our voices are locked in your recorder — me, Lalloo, Rehaan, Kaka, JP Pagal, everyone. Now you know everything. What will we talk about if we ever meet again?
Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An unusual narration of lives we see everyday around us but know little about. NGOs , social workers and others interested to help the hard working poor of India should read the book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this after reading "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" so perhaps the excellent writing of that book made this book pale in comparison. The main character is talented and intelligent but is a raging alcoholic and drug user making it somewhat hard to be entirely sympathetic. It seems his lifestyle of homelessness is as much by choice as by circumstance.

The writing was decent however the author appears regularly in the story-telling which I find gets in the way of it being an immersive experience like Katherine Boo's book.
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By Greyman on December 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well research book about migrant laborers in India. The reporter does a good job of piecing the stories together, and telling with humor and compassion and without extraneous judgement. The book lacks the pure poetry of Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Book. But at the same time I think the author just gets the context better, and I think this is important.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long admired Sethi's writing in The Hindu - well written, informed, pieces that make the subtleties and complexities of situations comprehensible. A journalist who one remembers because of his writing and what it conveys and not because he uses it to just grab attention or promote himself. This book, in longer form, has all those attributes. Wonderfully observed and compassionate writing about an India tourists don't see or recoil from. The comparison has been made with Orwell and while the writing style is very different the subject, humanity and clarity of writing lend validity to the comparison. Very highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
A day laborer and his friends from New Delhi slum philosophize, evocate through hope and despair, illness and health, and sometimes the haze of alcohol about their livelihood. Powerful, poignant and enlightening, a momentous biographical work.
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Format: Hardcover
Journalist Aman Sethi spent five years on and off with a homeless laborer, Mohammed Ashraf and his cohorts in a Delhi slum. Through numerous interviews and a burgeoning friendship Sethi attempts to piece together the life story of this one ordinary man who although educated and with a wife and family now finds himself sleeping on the street and spends his days drinking or looking for day work. Through the prism of this one man's life story is revealed many of the harrowing problems that plague India. Oftentimes funny but mostly deeply depressing Ashraf's and Sethi's humanity always shine through. A wonderful companion book to Katherine Boos', 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers'.
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