Behind the Beautiful Forevers

  • by Katherine Boo
  • Narrated by Sunil Malhotra
  • 8 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2012
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees "a fortune beyond counting" in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption.
With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter - Annawadi’s "most-everything girl" - will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a 15-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call "the full enjoy". But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal.
As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

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What the Critics Say

"[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)
"The book plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel…. Boo gives even the broadest themes (the collateral damage of globalization, say) a human face. And there are half a dozen characters here so indelible - so swept up in impossible dreams and schemes - that they call Dickens and Austen to mind." (Entertainment Weekly)
"Must read. Katherine Boo Behind the Beautiful Forevers. A Mumbai slum understood and imagined as never before in language of intense beauty." (Salman Rushdie)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Vibrant tale of life in a Mumbai shanty slum

What an unexpected delight! “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a tale of life in a slum shanty under the flight-path at Mumbai airport, a work of fiction but grounded in carefully researched real lives, such that it won a prize for non-fiction. I heard of it when I booked to see the play David Hare has written from the book, soon to be performed at the National Theatre.

The action takes place in a shanty originally started by Tamil workers brought to Mumbai as cheap construction workers for the burgeoning Mumbai airport. The desperate poverty is regarded as demeaning India’s image to the businesspeople flying into its financial capital, so it’s entrance is hidden behind a large hoarding, advertising ceramic tiles that will “stay beautiful forever.” The optimism and entrepreneurial spirit of the people wrestles with powerful currents of change – tensions between Moslem and Hindu, the continuing legacies of the caste system and of the British Raj, the effects of boom and bust. And even terrorism. The residents are under constant threat of eviction from their illegal slums, from violence and robbery from other slum-dwellers and from the corruption of politicians, police and the legal system. But their optimism still shines through, so the book is not just an education, but unexpectedly uplifting. Thoroughly recommended.
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- T

Great book, with interesting twist at the end.

What made the experience of listening to Behind the Beautiful Forevers the most enjoyable?

Characters overcoming, and succumbing to adversity. In a hard, but colorful world.


What other book might you compare Behind the Beautiful Forevers to, and why?

Last man in tower by Aravind Adiga. It is also set in India, and deals with human interactions, and the how relationships are distorted by money, greed, and jealousy.


Any additional comments?

This book is very well written. I could see, smell, and taste the slums. I felt like I knew the inhabitants personally by the end.

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- Louis Hall

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-08-2013
  • Publisher: Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd