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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

By Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2012,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2014,
    288 pages.

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There are currently 34 reader reviews for Behind the Beautiful Forevers
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Sande O. (Rochester, NY) (01/17/12)

A Compelling Look at India's Motivated Poor
Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist Katherine Boo has given readers a fascinating look at the poor in a slum near Mumbai's international airport. These poor are not stereotypical, however, they are individuals with names, histories and personalities. They are entrepreneural. They have hopes and dreams and flaws. Their lives are impacted by corruption, chance, and their own destiny. This book is a revelation to anyone like me who like me is used to seeing the poor as victims with their hands out. Boo's research is incredible. Her style is that of a reporter, but underneath she is oboviously championing her subjects cause. A worthwhile and enjoyable read.
Norman G. (Diamond Bar, CA) (01/16/12)

Enlightening
The author gives a fascinating look at a very unusual aspect at the lives of the vast majority of Indian citizens.The characters follow form but do not engender any deep feelings from the reader and this detracts from the overall experience. I highly recommend the book for what the reader experiences but cannot give it 5 stars as I wanted to feel more affinity to the characters as people.
Kathleen W. (Appleton, WI) (01/15/12)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
This is an excellent book. I finished reading it 2 weeks ago and can't stop thinking about it. I was afraid that it was trying to ride on the success of Slumdog Millionaire, but I was dead wrong. This book stands strongly on its own strengths. Somehow I missed the fact that this is non-fiction, which makes its readability even more incredible.It affected me like a great novel does as opposed to a book about current events or journalist’s report. The characters are unforgettable and the fact that millions of people live in places like Annawadi is both eye-opening and heart-wrenching.
Sandra H. (St. Cloud, Minnesota) (01/12/12)

behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo
No matter where we live, whether in a middle class neighborhood, a gated community with multi-million dollar homes, or a slum, it is human nature to aspire to have a better life. Katherine Boo focuses on the poorest of the poor who live in a garbage strewn, makeshift settlement called Annawadi, which has grown up next to the airport and the expensive hotels that surround it in Mumbai, India. She takes us into the lives of several families and their attempts to better themselves. It is not difficult to identify with Manju, a young woman working on a college degree while also teaching children in a makeshift school and doing the drudge work of cooking and cleaning for her family. Manju dreams of making a good marriage while her brother Abdul earns most of the family’s income by sorting through garbage and selling what can be salvaged. Abdul lives for the moment knowing that he can be successful only by being invisible to those around him. Their mother, Zehunisia, cares about her 10 children, depends on Abdul and pushes Manju to work hard. Their father cannot work because garbage work had ruined his lungs. The dangers threatening them daily include disease, rats, and the knowledge that no one outside of their immediate family cares about them. Neighbors’ jealousy, corrupt officials, doctors, and even those who run facilities funded by outside sources to help the poor but use those funds for themselves threaten them. Until an unexpected tragedy puts them all at the mercy of a life with no life supports, the family continue to believe they will eventually succeed,.
This is a great read for book clubs. We hear much of India as a country that has millions of citizens bettering themselves but we seldom hear about those who are left behind to live in unimaginable circumstances. “behind the beautiful forevers” will open eyes and hearts and, hopefully, cause readers to become part of those who help “make incremental and meaningful improvement” for people living in such circumstances. To do so, however, we must first become aware of their real plight. And Boo's book is a perfect place to begin.
Claire M. (Sarasota, FL) (01/09/12)

behind the beautiful forevers
Down the road from the Mumbai airport, behind the beautiful forevers - a series of painted cement walls - lives a community of indigent people whose lives I sometimes read with my eyes half covered, hoping to avoid the death of one more young person whose hope had run out. This is narrative non-fiction that creates a theatre of the mind, visualizing the fetid, open sewer pathways, sewage lakes, and squalid patchwork of huts of Annawadi where its inhabitants eke out survival of the fittest. I have ventured into communities on the margins of societies but Katherine Boo has infiltrated one and gives us their stories. The stories are vivid; the systemic corruption of India makes life even more difficult and the awareness of the changes in the global marketplace are recognized by the roadboys who compete with one another for garbage to sell to buy a bowl of rice. They see those who have attained the “full enjoy” while waging their daily struggle to make the next day. Boo’s description of the “education” that prevails in the slums exposes not just the lack of education, but why-because one struggling teacher or one corrupt person after another takes the money and runs.
This is a book that should be read in sociology and political theory classes to open up for discussion the ways corruption silently steals the truth and creates and continues a permanent underclass. It’s an interesting read for book clubs if it pricks at their consciences and makes them aware of why there’s an Occupy movement in the first world.
Beth C. (Sioux Falls, SD) (01/08/12)

Behind the Bearutiful Forever: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Katherin Boo is an aclaimed reporter for "The New Yorker" and "The Washington Post." She took her excellent reporter's skills into an immensely poor slum area of Mumbai, India, to document how the global economy is affecting the residents of these unseen places. This particular place is called Annawadi and is located near the Mumbai International Airport, but behind walls that separate the area from the highway. On these walls were written the words "beautiful forever beautiful forever beautiful." thus the title of the book. It is hard to describe how fascinating I found the book to be. It is terribly sad, horrifying in some cases, and yet peopled with individuals who keep on trying despite tremendous odds against them. They struggle everyday just to maintain the life they have. Katherine Boo keeps herself out of the book and in many places her writing skills make it feel like a well written novel - the people and places are so well described. I would definitely recommend the book. It would be wonderful for book group discussions too.
Sharalynne P. (Munster, IN) (01/08/12)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
When I first started reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers I had the movie Slum Dog Millionnaire in my mind. I have, sorry to say, never read much about India . This is not a love story, nor a book on achieving some great goal, unless you count staying alive as one. This work of non-fiction is a beautifully written account of the lives of individuals in a slum in Mumbai. Although it is a story of poverty , death, disease, and persecution, it is also one of perseverance and hope. These people will stay with you for awhile.
Michele W. (Kiawah Island, SC) (01/07/12)

Ordinary Lives
This book requires reflection, and the writing is so densely packed with information and interpretation that I had to stop reading after every few pages to digest it all. Katharine Boo is a journalist who worked among the Hindu and Muslim people of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi, following them for years until they forgot she was filming; prodding them to express their thoughts aloud; hoping that her efforts would somehow illuminate universal concepts about global development, poverty and unfairness. She makes the lives she chronicles understandable to people who've never missed a meal or contracted jaundice or worms from a sewage lake that adjoins their neighborhood. And she makes slum dwellers precious to us by revealing their inner lives.

Her heroes and heroines are clawing their way up the economic ladder by stealing, swindling, and defrauding the government, charitable organizations, and each other. Hospital workers sell life-saving drugs in the streets while nurses refuse to touch patients in the wards. Policemen extort citizens who are beginning to make money, ruining their lives. Death comes early and often as neighbors refuse to help a man who needs an operation and step over a man lying injured on the sidewalk, leaving him to die. Suicide and accidental deaths are common occurrences. In this environment, Boo says, the need to beat out others in order to survive strangles empathy as well as organized resistance to corruption. Each family must be dedicated only to their own survival, and must put aside finer feelings in order to make progress into the middle class.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Boo suggests that it is not foolish to hope in Annawadi. She maintains that life is improving for the impoverished, although very slowly and unevenly. The playing field is tilted against them, and they are prevented by their condition from joining together to reform the governments which ought to be helping them but are too often making things worse due to corruption.

This is a stunning and sometimes difficult book to read, but well worth a bit of discomfort. I think that Boo succeeded admirably in finding universal truth in the lives of ordinary people, and I think some lessons could be learned for our own lives and country.

Beyond the Book:
  Slums

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