The consensus is in: Katherine Boo's narrative nonfiction about corruption, struggle, and hope in Annawadi, India, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is very popular with BookBrowse reviewers; 30 out of 30 readers rate it 4 or 5 stars! Here's what people are saying:
Some books carry me along, this one pulled. It was not easy to read, yet not easily put down. Poverty, corruption, racism, economic envy, and brutal indifference toward human life pummel the inhabitants of Annawadi, Mumbai's undercity, yet amazingly, there exist pockets of hope and aspiration. I have been inspired by this book (Karen J). There have been few books in my life that have stayed with me long after reading them - for instance, To Kill a Mockingbird and Angela's Ashes - and now I will add Behind the Beautiful Forevers to the list (Anne B).
Most readers agree, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a difficult but important and eye-opening read:
This glimpse into a few of the "little lives" impacted by the terrible inequalities that exist is painful, eye-opening, and well worth a read by anyone who cares to know how others experience the world (Susan B). In order to "make incremental and meaningful improvement[s]" for people living under such circumstances, we must first become aware of their real plight. And Boo's book is a perfect place to begin (Sandra H). I urge you to plunge ahead, explore the ideas and values that are presented, which truly transcend this specific region, ethnicity, and culture... just beware; it's very unsettling (Lani S). Boo's descriptions of the slums of Annawadi and of the lives of the people who inhabit them are superb. Her book reads like a novel while bringing an important message to all of us about the state of many people in our world. I highly recommend this book (Darlene C). Boo's subjects are unforgettable and the fact that millions of people live in places like Annawadi is both eye-opening and heart-wrenching (Kathleen W).
Many people were saddened and deeply affected by Boo's writing:
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 every day just to maintain the life they have. Katherine Boo keeps herself out of the book, and in many instances her style feels like a well-written novel - the people and places are so well described. I definitely recommend this book (Beth C). The stories Boo tells woke me up at night. The book is amazingly well-written but certainly heavy and overwhelming. Despite being well-read and reasonably well-traveled, it reminded me how little I know about the rest of the world... and how we view each other. I will be thinking about this book for a long time (Amber B)!
Others were amazed with the book's message of hope:
The author has captured both the appalling poverty and the amazing courage and optimism of the people of Annawadi (Sharon P). 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 (Michele W). I am wiser and more compassionate for having read this book, and for that I am grateful to Ms. Boo for writing it (Carm D).
However, a few readers had some mild criticisms:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is narrative nonfiction and is written in the past tense, which does not allow the reader to connect with the characters emotionally. Still, the story fascinates... (Jacquelyn H). I highly recommend the book for what the reader experiences but cannot give it 5 stars as I wanted to feel more affinity for the characters as people (Norman G).
But overall, the majority of BookBrowse readers felt the book was extraordinarily well-written and thoroughly researched:
This book impressed me on many levels. Boo spent over three years with the people she writes about: Abdul Husain, a Muslim teenage garbage picker; Zehrunisa, his mother; Asha, a middle-aged mother with aspirations of improving her position in life by taking on the role of a slum lord; Manju, Asha's daughter, who attends a college of sorts; and Fatima, the Hussains' neighbor whose actions set in motion a tragedy for both families. The end result is narrative nonfiction at its finest and a book you won't soon forget (Liz C). Katherine Boo has depicted the residents of Annawadi in a sympathetic yet realistic manner. She has researched this community with thoroughness and imparts her information in very readable prose (Viqui G). Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an extremely well-written book, although one that is difficult to read due to the painful subject matter. If readers are not familiar with "narrative nonfiction" I would suggest reading the author's note first. It is important for readers to understand this is a work of nonfiction, not a novel (Darlene C). Katherine Boo has used her writing skills to encourage each of us to open our eyes, see the global world, and to discover what's wrong and find a way to make a difference (Carolyn A).
Click on the video below to watch the book trailer for Behind the Beautiful Forevers and to see images of life in Annawadi.
This review was originally published in February 2012, and has been updated for the April 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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