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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2014, 288 pages

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There are currently 35 reader reviews for Behind the Beautiful Forevers
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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.
Anne B. (Carson City, NV) (01/05/12)

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers
There have been a few books in my life that have stayed with me since I read them, for instance, To Kill a MockingBird, Angela's Ashes, and now I will add Beyond the Beautiful Forevers to the list. It seems the books that stay in my mind and move me always involve poverty and social injustice, whether fiction or non-fiction. Katherine Boo is a wonderful writer and clearly brings the inhabitants of Annawadi and their environs to life. If I could have given this book an excellent rating I would have because it is just that good and I think it is important reading, especially for Americans.
Jacquelyn H. (Blanco, TX) (01/05/12)

SHOW NOT TELL
Behind the Beautiful Forevers tells a fantastic story of Mumbai. It is narrative non-fiction and is written in the past tense that does not allow the reader to connect with the characters emotionally. The overuse of forms of "to be" became annoying as the book progressed. Stronger verbs please. Still, the story fascinates even though I was disappointed at not becoming emotionally involved with the characters. Other reviewers have touted other praises of Boo's book. They are right.
This book is definitely worth reading.
Barbara H. (Richmond, IN) (01/05/12)

Behind the Beautiful Forever
Behind the Beautiful Forever is a factual narrative of some families and individuals living in Anniwadi, a slum in the Indian city of Mumbai. The names of the characters, the events are all actual, which is rather unusual in accounts of how people live.

It is a story aided by events that provide a dramatic plot that is resolved in the end. At the same time it is a picture of life eked through the resourcefulness of individuals in a dismal location.

Katherine Bo is a reporter; therefore the work is detailed, and she is wise in her choice of detail. As a writer she tells a story that is not created. Saying that it is a pleasant read is difficult because existence in Annawadi is not easy. However, the book is not simply a litany of poverty. The people are real and hopeful and resourceful.

I felt that some of the Q and A section should be used to create a prologue to prepare the reader more positively prior to reading. If the reader understands her point of view, the characters can be better appreciated. The book is one I am very glad I had the opportunity to read.
Power Reviewer Mary Lou F. (Naples, FL) (01/03/12)

Strength of Humanity
This book shows that no matter how hard one's life is, there is one worse off. Conditions in India are deplorable and the author has put forth a very descriptive analysis of these conditions.
John W. (Clayton, Missouri) (01/03/12)

Remarkable
Katherine Boo's "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is perhaps the best book that I have read this past year. It is not only well written, but extremely well researched and informative on slum life in India (although the setting is outside Mumbai, it could take place anywhere). Many of the conditions of the slum dwellers apply to life in many developing countries (the inhumanity and challenge to simply exist), but her approach brings them to life beyond what I ever imagined and has changed the way I view the world.

I am not naive about the extent of corruption that takes place in any society, but the level of corruption that the author depicts in Annawadi appears to permeate every institution whether education, health care, the justice system, public utilities, drinkable water and disposal of raw sewage. Her gift for capturing the uniqueness of each inhabitant gives us a brief glimpse of how differently each individual approaches daily life, the varied ways they try to adjust to near impossible living conditions and survive in the poverty.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in India s well as anyone concerned about the plight of the poor. I've always been fascinated by the country and read numerous fictional books about all levels of society historically or present times. This book has presented me a whole new way of visualizing future stories I read and most importantly being thankful for my blessings.
Power Reviewer Doris K. (Angora, MN) (12/31/11)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
This is a "must read" for anyone who is interested in the true slum life of 21st century India.
Through the art of narrative nonfiction Katherine Boo makes the people who live in Annawadi, a slum near Mumbai, real as we learn about their struggle for survival. Rather than being depressing
she writes about how these people are trying to better themselves. Many strive for a good education. I thought it was a thought provoking, good book.
This book would promote a good discussion in a book club.
Christine B. (st. paul, MN) (12/30/11)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Wow! What an incredible look into the disparity of living in India. Katherine Boo did a wonderful job with her interviews of the people of Annawadi so that we get an absolute intimate look into their sordid lives. She also portrays the touches of humor, kindness, jealousy, and hope that encompass us all. The competitive spirt that abounds in Annawadi stunned me. This should be a must read for everyone!

Beyond the Book:
  Slums

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