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Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars Paperback – February 28, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The Sunday Times Travel Book of the Year
—A Guardian, Observer, and Economist Best Book of the Year
—A Time Out India Subcontinental Book of the Year

"[An] intimate and valuable book of literary reportage . . . [Faleiro's] language, like dots of colored light pinging from a smudgy mirrored ball, casts an intoxicating if unsettling glow. . . . Will break your heart several times over."—The New York Times

"Reporting at its best."—Junot Diaz (interview with The Rumpus)

"A glimpse into a frightening subculture unlike anything that a typical American has ever experienced. . . . With crackling prose, Faleiro provides an intense, disconcertingly entertaining [look] into the shadowy corners of a foreign culture; the fast-paced narrative, while undeniably journalistic, reads like a thriller. But what ultimately gives the book its resonance is Faleiro's empathy and love for her fully developed subjects. In lesser hands, these young people could have come off as clichés, but the author makes sure we care for them and root for them to survive a life that most will never understand. Gritty, gripping, and often heartbreaking—an impressive piece of narrative nonfiction."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Through the kaleidoscope of deftly captured voices, Faleiro recreates the harsh world beyond the bar lights' glow."—Publishers Weekly

"Brilliant . . . It's most outstanding quality to my eye is the window it offers on the widespread sexual repression that exists in India today, and the murky middle-class morality that rules it."—The Guardian

"Faleiro delivers Leela's story with a reporter's distance and a novelist's immediacy. She animates journalistic observations with vivid descriptions, and her dialogue sings with slang and dialect. Leela moves through the pages as a remarkable, tragic, and . . . grittily inspiring figure—victim, heroine, survivor."—Shelf Awareness

"A tour de force of heartrending reportage . . . which blends rigorous journalistic research with the narrative skills of a novelist. Faleiro depicts effects as well as excavating causes, painting a vivid portrait of the daily—and nightly—life of a dancer. . . . With tight focus and pacing, she is adept at conjuring the brutal backstory of these lives."—The Independent

"Excellent . . . A meticulous, moving account of the battle for social mobility and personal freedom in Bombay . . . A rich portrait of the desires, vulnerabilities, and sheer resilience of Leela and her colleagues."—The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"In a fast-paced, conversational, high-octance circumstantial style, the contradictions of Leela's hedonistic, heartbreaking life as a badass Lolita crossed with a naively knowing Sweet Charity are thoroughly and empathetically explored. Her rich character is sparked to vivid life in a highly colored work of brilliant literary reportage."—The Times (UK)

“[Faleiro] seamlessly weaves politics, history, sociology, urban activism, and healthcare into her portrait of Leela’s life as an erotic dancer, infusing her rhythmic sentences with Leela’s and her coterie’s sharp-witted and colorful patter. . . . Faleiro masterfully portrays the complexity of these women's lives.”—Bookslut

"It is useless to describe the pathos and singular power of this book. Beautiful Thing is, quite, simply, one of the finest books on Bombay ever written."—The Spectator (UK)

"Faleiro demonstrates that when written with empathy, the story of one person's life can effectively tell the story of thousands."—The Scotsman Book Supplement

"Does what every good piece of reportage ought to–took me to a place I couldn't have gone by myself."—Hari Kunzru, The Guardian (Best Books of 2011)

“A rare glimpse into dismissed lives. Faleiro brings a novelist’s eye for detail and a depth of empathy to her work. A magnificent book of reportage that is also endowed with all the terror and beauty of art.”—Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss

"A gripping and intimate portrayal of the lives of the women who work in [India's sex industry]. She manages to evoke shock, rage, and laughter. . . . The book is a moving testament to girls who deal with the brutal hand fate has dealt them by capitalizing on the gifts they do have: beauty, an inner strength, and each other."—Literary Review (UK)

“A small masterpiece of observation . . . Sassy, sensitive, and deeply moving . . . Beautiful Thing opens up a hidden world with startling insight and intimacy, and strangely is both a tragic monument to the abused bar girls of Bombay and a celebration of their amazing resilience and spirit.”—William Dalrymple, author of Nine Lives

“Astonishing, gripping, immersive.”—Time Out (India)

"A revealing and important book."—Sunday Times (Best Travel Book of the Year)

“Without question a brilliant, unforgettable book by a writer who is one of the best of her generation . . . One of the most intimate and gripping books written about Bombay in a very long while.”—Business Standard

“Unforgettable . . . Faleiro has transformed a door, studded with rusted nails of truth, heavy with the strange and disturbing secrets it hides, into a jeweled curtain, and she has drawn that curtain aside with an artist’s hand.”—Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram

“Faleiro writes her way into the bloodstream with this mesmeric book, fashioned with heart and enviable acuity. A shocking, funny and memorable ride.”—Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted

"Faleiro [has] striking empathy, sensitivity, and [a] sharp ear."—The Independent on Sunday

"Faleiro's portrait of a teenaged Mumbai dancer, Leela, and her bright but brittle world is so compelling that it invites from us the question of exactly what might constitute genius in nonfiction."—The National

“Compelling . . . Faleiro has captured a world many refuse to acknowledge and shown it in a delicate, nonjudgmental and touching way.”—GQ (India)

“Detailed, disturbing, admirable. A big achievement.—The Indian Express

"In India, despite the staggering number of fabulous stories that are waiting to be told, we have been mostly deprived of good literary nonfiction - a genre which Edward Hume describes as one that combines 'the immediacy of journalism and the power of true accounts with the texture, read, drama, emotional punch, point of view and broad themes of a novel.' This is what Faleiro has achieved in her riveting story-telling, as she draws out the relationship between nineteen-year-old Leela and the dance bar, Night Lovers, with its golden pillars and Medusa heads."—Times of India

"As a first person narrator who makes her presence felt only occasionally, Faleiro presents what is revealed to her without judgement or heavy-handed emotion. She has collected a wonderful set of characters to act as our guides in Beautiful Thing. Aside from Leela, there’s Aunty, who runs a brothel in Aksa Beach; Masti, a rare example of a hijra accepted by her family; Shetty, the owner of a dance bar; Priya, Leela’s friend; Apsara, Leela’s mother; and a Dubai-based fixer who claims to be Abu Salem’s right hand man. Well-paced, sharply-observed and full of respectful curiosity, Beautiful Thing is difficult to put down."—Mumbai Boss

"To ignore Beautiful Thing would be an act of supreme ego."—The Hindu

"Irrefutably heartbreaking."—The Asian Age

About the Author

Sonia Faleiro is the author of the novel, The Girl (Viking, 2006), and is a contributing editor at Vogue. She was born in Goa, studied in Edinburgh, and lives in San Francisco.

Visit her website at soniafaleiro.com

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Black Cat; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802170927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802170927
  • ASIN: 0802170927
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
Beautiful Thing grew out of an article Sonia Faleiro wrote about Mumbai's "bar dancers" that was never published because it wasn't considered newsworthy (perhaps because the bars were officially banned in 2005). It is true that Faleiro's subject isn't groundbreaking, yet the world she investigated -- a world she found fascinating and intimidating even as it left her "feeling frustrated and hopeless" -- deserves to publicized, if only to illuminate the impact of poverty on women who live in a culture of limited options.

Faleiro sketches the hierarchy of sex workers in Mumbai, from the waitresses in a Silent Bar who provide manual relief while serving drinks and tandoori, to brothel workers, to call girls and massage parlor employees. Bar dancers reside at the top of the heap, in part because they sell sex discreetly and infrequently (and thus do not consider themselves to be sex workers), while facing many of the same challenges: paying bribes to the police to avoid being brutalized by their cattle prods; working for violent employers; enduring rude comments and the judgment of a society that regards their profession as impure. Still, by dancing for men, bar dancers gain freedom they could not otherwise enjoy. They do not have to live at home, under the domineering rules of fathers or husbands. They can speak to men to whom they are not related without fear of punishment. Their customers think the bar dancers are dancing for them, but according to Leela (the dancer with whom Faleiro spent tbe most time), the customers are dancing for the bar girls: exchanging money for an insincere smile, rewarding cheesy lines from Bollywood romances with lavish shopping trips, forsaking loving wives for the illusion of a satisfied lover.
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Format: Paperback
"Beautiful Thing" reaches us as an acclaimed book of journalism, illuminating one of the darker corners---the world of Bombay's bar dancing girls--of that immense, dynamic Indian city of light and dark, where rich and poor may live hard by each other but never ever touch; no more than will its high and low castes. This remarkable book has been written by the young, award-winning reporter Sonia Faleiro, born in Goa, previously author of The Girl, a novel.

Faleiro was working on a story when she met nineteen-year old Leela, beautiful bar dancer with heart-breaking back story. Faleiro allowed Leela to bring her, as a reporter, into her bar dancer's world, and kept her eyes, ears, and mind open. For five years the journalist met glamorous women, their lovers, their mothers, gangsters, cops, prostitutes and pimps, and, seemingly she recorded and/or wrote down everything she saw and heard. The result is an astonishingly vivid, intimate and immediate work that can put many novels to shame.

The writer now divides her time between Mumbai ( to which Bombay's name has now been changed), and San Francisco. She writes The Other India column on India's marginalized communities and sub-cultures for The New York Times' India site, India Ink. She has spoken about India's marginalized on the American NPR's "All Things Considered." Upon its 2011 publication in the U.K., BEAUTIFUL THING was named an "Economist," "Observer," and "Guardian" book of the year, and The "Sunday Times" Travel Book of the Year 2011. At its American publication, The New York Times called it "an intimate and valuable piece of reportage" that "will break your heart many times over.
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Format: Paperback
The population of India is over 1.1 billion souls. That's 1.1 billion stories.

Author Sonia Faleiro doesn't follow in the footsteps of so many other modern writers who choose India as a background for their stories. In Beautiful Thing, Faleiro writes non-fiction because she doesn't have to create an interesting, fictionalized character. Leela is a story in herself.

Leela was raped by the police when she was 13 (I think this is right), in a transaction coordinated by her father. She escapes to Mumbai (Bombay) and becomes a popular performer in "Night Lover," a dance bar which is not quite a brothel and certainly not a fancy dance club.

Faleiro spent 5 years researching the dance bar scene. You learn the routine of dancer Leela, how she parties, flirts with her customers, manages her finances, and compares herself to other people. You learn about Leela's fellow dancers, about police graft and gangsters, about brothel managers and hijras. Leela lives in the fast lane, but it is a lane that goes nowhere, and when Night Lover and other dance bars are closed by government order, Leela's life changes, and not for the better.

This is a raw and intense inside view of a side of India that few see.
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This non-fiction book tells the story of the world of young women in India who work at the dance bars, take lovers, engage in prostitution and generally wear out their young lives. Told through the eyes of a reporter who has befriended 19-year old Leela, the reader gets a glimpse into this unique and violent lifestyle that leaves nothing but destruction in its wake.

Like many other young Indian woman, Leela was raised in rural poverty, raped by her father and brothers at a young age and prostituted out to the highest bidder. At the age of 13 she ran away to the big city of Bombay, where her youth and gumption landed her a job as dancer in a club where men sought her favors by giving her gifts. When the reporter first meets her, Leela is living well and has even brought her mother to the big city to live with her.

Leela's good fortune changes however, when new laws close these dance clubs and Leela is thrust into prostitution. Her story, as well as those around her, make for fascinating and sad reading. There just doesn't seem to be any way out of this lifestyle that robs her of her youth, her hopes and her dreams. This book opened my eyes to the poverty and the horror of Leela's world.

Bravo to the author for documenting all of this and bringing it to the world's attention even though I can see no real hope of ever changing the fate of young women like Leela who are indeed victims of their circumstances.
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