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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity Paperback – April 8, 2014
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
“A book of extraordinary intelligence [and] humanity . . . beyond groundbreaking.”—Junot Díaz, The New York Times Book Review
“Reported like Watergate, written like Great Expectations, and handily the best international nonfiction in years.”—New York
“This book is both a tour de force of social justice reportage and a literary masterpiece.”—Judges’ Citation for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award
“Incandescent writing and excruciatingly good storytelling.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A richly detailed tapestry of tragedy and triumph told by a seemingly omniscient narrator with an attention to detail that reads like fiction while in possession of the urgent humanity of nonfiction.”—Los Angeles Times
“Rends the heart, thrills the mind, pricks the conscience, and burns the pages.”—Washingtonian
“[An] exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. . . . Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“A jaw-dropping achievement, an instant classic of narrative nonfiction . . . With a cinematic intensity . . . Boo transcends and subverts every cliché, cynical or earnest, that we harbor about Indian destitution and gazes directly into the hearts, hopes, and human promise of vibrant people whom you’ll not soon forget.”—Elle
“Riveting, fearlessly reported . . . [Behind the Beautiful Forevers] plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel. That’s partly because Boo writes so damn well. But it’s also because over the course of three years in India she got extraordinary access to the lives and minds of the Annawadi slum, a settlement nestled jarringly close to a shiny international airport and a row of luxury hotels. Grade: A.”—Entertainment Weekly
“A tough-minded, inspiring, and irresistible book . . . Boo’s extraordinary achievement is twofold. She shows us how people in the most desperate circumstances can find the resilience to hang on to their humanity. Just as importantly, she makes us care.”—People (four stars)
“A shocking—and riveting—portrait of life in modern India . . . This is one stunning piece of narrative nonfiction. . . . Boo’s prose is electric.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“[A] landmark book.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Moving . . . a humane, powerful and insightful book . . . a book of nonfiction so stellar it puts most novels to shame.”—The Boston Globe
“A mind-blowing read.”—Redbook
“An unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honesty . . . pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“The most riveting Indian story since Slumdog Millionaire—except hers is true.”—Marie Claire
“Seamless and intimate . . . a scrupulously true story . . . It’s tempting to compare [Behind the Beautiful Forevers] to a novel, but . . . that would hardly do it justice.”—Salon
“Extraordinary . . . moving . . . Like the best journeys, Boo’s book cracks open our preconceptions and constructs an abiding bridge—at once daunting and inspiring—to a world we would never otherwise recognize as our own.”—National Geographic Traveler
“Behind the Beautiful Forevers offers a rebuke to official reports and dry statistics on the global poor. . . . Boo is one of few chroniclers providing this picture. She’s a moral force and . . . an artist of reverberating power.”—The American Prospect
“Kate Boo’s reporting is a form of kinship. Abdul and Manju and Kalu of Annawadi will not be forgotten. She leads us through their unknown world, her gift of language rising up like a delicate string of necessary lights. There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that.”—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
“I couldn’t put Behind the Beautiful Forevers down even when I wanted to—when the misery, abuse and filth that Boo so elegantly and understatedly describes became almost overwhelming. Her book, situated in a slum on the edge of Mumbai’s international airport, is one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I’ve ever read. If Bollywood ever decides to do its own version of The Wire, this would be it.”—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
“A beautiful account, told through real-life stories, of the sorrows and joys, the anxieties and stamina, in the lives of the precarious and powerless in urban India whom a booming country has failed to absorb and integrate. A brilliant book that simultaneously informs, agitates, angers, inspires, and instigates.”—Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
“Without question the best book yet written on contemporary India. Also, the best work of narrative nonfiction I’ve read in twenty-five years.”—Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi
“There is a lot to like about this book: the prodigious research that it is built on, distilled so expertly that we hardly notice how much we are being taught; the graceful and vivid prose that never calls attention to itself; and above all, the true and moving renderings of the people of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi. Garbage pickers and petty thieves, victims of gruesome injustice—Ms. Boo draws us into their lives, and they do not let us go. This is a superb book.”—Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains
"It might surprise you how completely enjoyable this book is, as rich and beautifully written as a novel. In the hierarchy of long form reporting, Katherine Boo is right up there.”—David Sedaris
About the Author
Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.
Top customer reviews
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Katherine Boo is blessed with perception, awareness and understanding. I was blown away by her ability to capture the everyday judgements, intentions and attitudes of the residents of Annawadi and to provide an intimate looks into the oppression, corruption and abuse of poverty.
It takes a while until the basis for the title of the book becomes clear. It turns out that the road alongside the airport, taking people from their arrivals and departures and leading to the modern hotels and relative wealth of the city, is lined with large signs, advertisements that say 'Beautiful Forever' as part of the products slogan, again and again. It is behind these road signs, erected not only to promote the product but also to block the view from the roadway to the slums, so that travelers and other more fortunates are not disturbed by such sights as they pass by.
I enjoyed this book as well as learned from it, insights into some of the day to day details of life for these people, and how they manage within their own sub societies to scrape out a living. Imagine, if you can, earning money by foraging through garbage for any small scraps of metal or plastic that could be of value and could be sold to recyclers or scrap agents, at best earning pennies each day and at times not having enough money for even the simplest meal. It is a life that is hard to imagine even when reading about it, but it exists and is very real to those who live there today and will continue to live in these circumstances for the foreseeable future.
-- It reads like a novel, even a thriller, not a book of nonfiction. Katherine Boo drops you into the action from the very first page: a diligent and principled boy escaping from the authorities for a crime he didn't commit. She gets you inside the head of the 16-year old garbage collector, his fears, his motivations, his rat-infested pile of trash which is his only hiding place. From there, she radiates out into the entire slum of Annawadi, into the minds of few dozen other characters from the 3000 families huddled around a sewage lake next to the gleaming Mumbai Airport and its luxury hotels.
-- It's an extraordinary feat of reporting. For the central event of the book, Boo does 168 interviews. Additionally, she digs up 3000 government documents (no mean feat in the Indian bureaucracy) and spends 4 years of being right there with these folks. As a result, you come to understand the interconnectedness of all the lives of these complex, talented, vibrant people: their ethnic, religious and caste strife; their dealings with systemic corruption wherever they go; and the wages of crushing poverty, how they adapt to it, how they hope to escape to a better life. The suffering is real and deep, yet somehow Katherine Boo conveys the heartbreak without being preachy or sentimental.
-- It's also a call to action. You cannot read this book without having it soften your heart, expand your circle of compassion, understand the global consequences of everything we do, and have greater gratitude for all the privileges many of us take for granted.
The writing is also fluidly beautiful. This book is one of the best I've read in any genre. Read it to understand life a little better.
-- Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil., Happiness Engineer
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