- Paperback: 421 pages
- Publisher: Large Print Press; Lrg Rep edition (February 26, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594136181
- ISBN-13: 978-1594136184
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2,089 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Behind The Beautiful Forevers Paperback – Large Print, February 26, 2013
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2012: Katherine Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling, cockeyed settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport. From within this “sumpy plug of slum” Boo unearths stories both tragic and poignant--about residents’ efforts to raise families, earn a living, or simply survive. These unforgettable characters all nurture far-fetched dreams of a better life. As one boy tells his brother: “Everything around us is roses. And we’re like the s**t in between.” A New Yorker writer and recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “Genius” grant, Boo’s writing is superb and the depth and courage of her reporting from this hidden world is astonishing. At times, it’s hard to believe this is nonfiction. --Neal Thompson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
While the distance between rich and poor is growing in the U.S., the gap between the haves and have-nots in India is staggering to behold. This first book by a New Yorker staff writer (and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Washington Post) jolts the reader’s consciousness with the opposing realities of poverty and wealth in a searing visit to the Annawaldi settlement, a flimflam slum that has recently sprung up in the western suburbs of the gigantic city of Mumbai, perched tentatively along the modern highway leading to the airport and almost within a stone’s throw of new, luxurious hotels. We first meet Abdul, whose daily grind is to collect trash and sell it; in doing so, he has “lifted his large family above subsistence.” Boo takes us all around the community, introducing us to a slew of disadvantaged individuals who, nevertheless, draw on their inner strength to not only face the dreary day but also ponder a day to come that will, perhaps, be a little brighter. Sympathetic yet objective and eloquently rendered. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The first person we meet is Abdul. His age isn't clear but he's somewhere close to seventeen. He is a garbage recycler, spending his days in city dumps and selling and buying recyclables. For Annawadi, this is a good job. Many of his neighbors have to resort to eating rats and frogs found at the sewage dump for dinner. This makes Abdul feel like he is upwardly mobile. "It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn't hit you, the slumlord you hadn't offended, the malaria you hadn't caught." Unfortunately for Abdul, he is unable to dodge the catastrophe that will change his life. Because of a series of disputes with his neighbor Fatima, 'the one leg' (because she was born with only one leg), Fatima sets herself on fire and blames Abdul and his family for the act. She states at some point that they set her on fire, and at other points that they drove her to do it. Neither of these allegations are true but Abdul and his family are charged with the crime and a court case is in the horizon. In Mumbai's slum, everything is about money and getting paid off. The police expect pay-offs, as do the mediators and the investigators. While Abdul's family has finally been able to get ahead, this court case takes all of their resources to fight it. Abdul's father and sister are incarcerated in a horrible jail and Abdul is in a youth facility where he is regularly beaten. "The Indian criminal justice system was a market like garbage, Abdul now understood. Innocence and guilt could be bought and sold like a kilo of polyurethane bags."
The children of Annawadi are resourceful, but not resourceful enough to avoid getting bitten by rats, having boils form from the rat bites and, in some cases, having worms emerge when the boils burst. Many of the children sleep on the floor of a hut if they are lucky enough to have any shelter. Sunil is a child we meet after he is thrown out of the orphanage where he'd been living. His mother died and his father is a drunk. Once back in Annawadi, he needs to transition: "reaccustoming himself to scavenging work, to rats that emerged from the woodpile to bite him as he slept, and to a state of almost constant hunger." He treated his hunger by eating discarded cigarettes or by lying down. His biggest fear was that his hunger was stunting his growth and he worried about this all the time. "To jumpstart his system, he saw he'd have to become a better scavenger. This entailed not dwelling on the obvious: that his profession could wreck a body in a very short time. Scrapes from dumpster-diving pocked and became infected. Where skin broke, maggots got in. Lice colonized hair, gangrene inched up fingers, calves swelled into tree trunks, and Abdul and his younger brothers kept a running wager about which of the scavengers would be the next to die." Many of the youth of Annawadi use Eraz-ex to get high. It's like white-out and is huffed. It is highly toxic to the liver and other organs and shortens the life span significantly. Others give up on life completely and there is a high suicide rate. The means of choice is usually rat poison.
The residents of Annawadi are squatters as the land is owned by the airport. It was rumored that the airport was going to raze the slum and build high-rises, some intended for the inhabitants - 269 foot apartments, some to house up to eleven residents. "Annawadians understood that their settlement was widely perceived as a blight, and that their homes, like their work, were provisional."
The slum is filled with hucksters and scam artists. One of the more interesting characters is Asha. She is determined to get ahead politically and raises money for many non-existent charities and schools. She gives a cut of the money to the funders and keeps part of it for herself. She is also involved in many of the financial transactions that occur in Annawadi. She offers to intervene with the police and court system for Abdul and his family for a price. There isn't much that goes on financially in Annawadi that Asha is not involved in. Interestingly, she has a daughter, Manju, who is a true idealist and will be the first female college graduate in Annawadi.
One would think that the poor would unite together to try to get out of their situation. "Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes, like Fatima, they destroyed themselves in the process. When they were fortunate, like Asha, they improved their lots by beggaring the life chances of other poor people". There is no cooperation in Annawadi. It is each for themselves and perhaps their families. "Poor people didn't unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for gains as slender as they were provisional."
This is an amazing book. It is filled with horror and despair but there are also elements of hope and humor. Katherine Boo catches the micro and macro elements of Annawadi and its inhabitants. She delves into the culture and provides the reader with an ethnographic story that is as mesmerizing as it is real. There is no putting this book down. It catches the reader and carries him away. I found that when I came up for air I had to shake my head a few times to be sure I wasn't in Annawadi and was in my home in the United States. The book is that real. I recommend it to anyone who likes to read about cultural differences and wants a book that is a real page-turner. It is intelligent, fascinating, and will raise as many questions as it answers. It is a book for our global era and economy. It is about the underbelly of globalization.
The title is a reference to an outdoor of Italian luxury mosaics that faces the city’s modern international airport; and Annawadi is right behind, like a black humor joke. It is a place of hunger and constant disease. Where people sleep in the middle of trash and are bitten by rats during the night. Where the fight for survivor surfaces a greedy and cruel side in the neighbors, the police corruption and politics. A place where people supplement their meager diet with rats and frogs from a fetid lagoon. Annawadi shows the combination of the darkest side of globalization with the Indian cast system, defined in the book as “the most perfectly oppressive labor division system ever conceived”.
Most of the story revolves around a Muslim family in the place of Hindu majority. They are accused of being responsible for the suicide of a one-legged woman. She set fire to herself because the renovation of a shared wall made dust fall in her rice, and wanted to teach a lesson to the neighbors that went too far. The lawsuit against the father of the family and his son extends for years and becomes a nightmare, revealing an endemic corruption in each and every level of the official system. The Indian bureaucracy seems like a big machine to forget the poor.
“In the West, and among some in the Indian elite, this word, corruption, had purely negative connotations; it was seen as blocking India’s modern, global ambitions. But for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.”
One day the Indian press does visit this place of poverty and injustice because of a death. Of a horse. A few days before, a garbage collector was ran over and died after pleading for help for hours in an active road. They took him out of there when he was already dead and the coroner determined – without an autopsy – that he died of tuberculosis, so that it wouldn’t smudge the region’s statistics.
The facts are amazing, and the execution of Behind the Beautiful Forevers too. The author used over a thousand hours of video, photographs and audio interviews to write the book. And Boo also has an incredible sensibility to find the right stories and the literary talent to transcribe them.
One of the best non-fiction books I have read. A deep immersion in an incredible theme, with incredible execution, multiple sources, long time of research. A must-read for journalists, those interested in modern India, or any human being.
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers is extraordinary, where "mostly hopeless" sings...Read more