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on December 6, 2016
An excellent, in-depth look at poverty, wealth disparity, and the societal structures that exacerbate the conditions of India's urban poor. A must read for any conscientious person planning to live or work in India, particularly Mumbai. Too often the narrative of poverty has only one note, but Behind the Beautiful Forevers earnestly seeks to represent the entire symphony of far reaching factors that come into play. A refreshing and much needed approach to journalism about those living in the world' slums.
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on December 1, 2016
This is a really good book, and is eye opening to how people live in poverty, and some of the real world procedures and policies in other countries. I highly recommend this book, and have passed it around to multiple family members and friends. I had to read this book as a part of a class during my first year of college, and once I started I could not put it down. The writing is not only good enough to allow you to picture everything happening, but it keeps you hanging on and wanting more.
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on October 28, 2016
Very interesting and well written book though the first half reads like a fictional narrative and only when you get to the notes do you realize that it's really a sociology study. That is confusing and I think many readers might not get to that point as the first half has few sympathetic characters with which to identify
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on April 13, 2014
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was a novel. The 'plot' seemed contrived and I almost put the book down. After researching and discovering that this book was in fact a journalistic account of the lives of the Annawadians, I began reading it with more openness. Having toured India - and indeed many countries around the world- I have witnessed much of the misery of the slums. But seeing this misery in a cursory manner isn't understanding the causes, especially as a white person of privilege.

Katherine Boo's honest account brings insight of the daily struggles encountered by some of the poorest Indians. Yet, their story could be applied to many countries which have huge disperity in socio-economic terms. Boo gives a voice to the people she interviewed and whose stories she tells - A voice that would otherwise be ignored, devalued, and sometimes extinguished, simply because of their lack of status. Without sentiment, Boo decries the abuse and corruption inherent in a weak government. She explores the often 'dog eat dog' mentality, the daily moral battle, that develops under such difficult and often tragic circumstances. Yet, Boo also captures the beauty of friendship and the courage that often guides a number of the characters to nobly rise above their situations. It is their story, their hopes, their dreams that lift this account into the realms of a classic.
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on June 30, 2013
I really thought this was a marvelous book. I devoured it. I teach about these realities of the developing countries and the lives of the urban poor, but Katherine Boo's story brings it all to life in a way that lets you feel the anguish and the frustration and the harsh, grinding lack of options. It is all here: social conflict, caste, corruption, abusive authority, manipulative politics, systemic inhumanity, but also hope, and ambition, and caring, and human bonds, and desperate longing for something better. Characters with recognizable strengths and weaknesses make recognizable choices that bring the appalling setting into clear focus.

If there is a weakness, for me it was that there were a few too many characters to really keep straight in my mind. When the crises emerged, I was sure I was missing some of their dimensions because I could not remember all the interesting detail about the characters that had been brought out earlier.

If there is a towering strength, it is the way the emotions creep up on you, so that you find yourself feeling what they feel and lose sight of some of the disgust and outrage that the slum brings at first. You cannot read this book without realizing that these people, desperate for a bath or a celebration or a word of kindness, are very much the same as you and me on the inside. As far as I am concerned, no message could be more important - the lack of hope in their lives is not just our problem it is our shame.
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on March 15, 2013
Ms. Boo moved to India and spent a few years interviewing and researching the stories of squatters on a patch of land next to Mumbai's international airport. The slum is on the other side of an airport billboard repeatedly touting a floor product as "beautiful forever" -- hence, "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers".

She is effective in conveying the realities of life in the slum, which makes the reader empathize with the poor instead of dismissing them with superficial stereotypes or feelings of pity. The poor work harder than we do -- everything (even getting some water)is difficult and requires an investment of time and effort. The money they make from scavenging or from theft is pitifully small -- so meager that the occasional resident who is lucky enough to get a job cleaning toilets is seen as a God. Whatever money they do make is frequently extorted away by a corrupt police force and political system. Public money or charitable contributions are diverted away in various corrupt schemes by local politicians. Thus, teachers don't teach; they pocket the money and make the outside world think they are doing something positive.

Most disturbing is the despair that leads even the very young to commit suicide. Boo evokes this despair via anecdotes and compelling language. Boo is brilliant in conveying the despair of the poor and the cynical corruption of those entrusted with their care. She is guilty of some over-writing, but I can't fault her for her passion.

There is little uplifting in this book. Some slumdwellers who survive and who plot their way out of the slum have admirable survival skills and strength of character. But the personal cost of such survival is so high that even their stories are not uplifting. One is reminded of the survival stories of those from the Holocaust -- many of whom are tortured by guilt and by the feeling that the truly best of them did not make the compromises necessary to survive.

This is an important book, and one absolutely necessary to read so as to put our own lives in proper perspective. But the subtitle -- "Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" -- is not quite accurate. One emerges from the book with empathy and admiration for the undercity dwellers, but with little sense of hope.
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on December 21, 2014
For a short while, I was privileged to live in the Anawadi slum just near the airport of Mumbai. This is an outstanding non-fiction book that reads like a novel. I was even more impressed when I read about the author and how she gathered her information and who she is. I can't say I learned anything "new" about poverty in India. It is as bad, as awful, as we read about in the U.S. But I was touched by the lives Boo chose to tell us about. There was no sugar coating, no dramatization, but I was mindful that even in excellent journalism, in the very act of selection, there is a point of view being taken, a message being sent. And Boo was mindful of this also. I respected that quite a bit. I read it for my book club and I must say that I was really glad I did because I had not read it up until then and I would have missed one of the best works of non-fiction I have read in a long while.
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on May 13, 2016
In the cities and rural areas you see poverty,filth, and hopelessness, and it is difficult to see a solution. Like all third world countries there is so much corruption and little hope but in spite of all that many disadvantaged people just shine and are good people. It is wonderful to meet someone like that and very humbling. This book tells it like it is and I admire the author for the time and research that was spent meeting families in the slums.
Having just returned from a trip to India, this book really meant so much more to me.
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on January 5, 2014
It's hard enough to write about ourselves, whom we know most intimately. To write about others, without giving in to superiority or distance, without being cloyingly empathetic or pretending to an understanding that is lacking - that seems to me most difficult of either.

This book is first, to me, a marvel of reporting. The detail, the vivid writing, the fully formed and rounded people who live an unwinding tangle of drama, unfairness, humor, sadness, love, windmill-tilting, chance and tragedy - all of it is a wonder. It is extremely hard to both write and report very well. Katherine Boo (with a great deal of help, as she writes in her afterword) does both, striking a beautiful balance between making a story seem both real and strange fiction. Both Dickens and muckraking. Palpable and lyrical.

In the end, this book made me marvel at how small my experience is of the world's many, many detailed lives. It made me realize that I have no idea what it's like to live in a society that is as capricious as this one - even as it echoes our extremes of poverty and wealth here in the U.S. We talk of freedom of opportunity here, which at its best is a reality we can grip and at its worst is a falsely given hope.

But how do you gain opportunity in a place like Annawadi? How can our more and more intimately connected globe weave a net of opportunity and dignity that raises more of us all? Where do we begin? I believe (I hope) it is with stories like this and the stone's ripple they make out and out.
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on June 10, 2015
This a beautiful story about people in a hopeless situation. They work hard everyday just to eat. They suffer at the hands of the police, of their family members, their neighbors whose envy can rise to murderous proportions, and their religions that are yet another means of keeping them down and separate. And yet, most of them get up every day and continue, looking for that next meal, that break that could change their fortunes. The story wasn't uplifting. It's too true to life to be uplifting, but the measure of resilience that Katherine captures in the folks of this little village is impressive. At the same time, this story is incredibly sad; their are no easy answers for people in villages like the one Katherine portrays.
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