Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

89%

41 Critic Reviews

The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.
 
Winner of the National Book Award | The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award | The Los Angeles Times Book Prize | The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award | The New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award
 
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • USA Today • New York • The Miami Herald • San Francisco Chronicle • Newsday
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New Yorker • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • The Boston Globe • The Economist • Financial Times • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • Foreign Policy • The Seattle Times • The Nation • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Denver Post • Minneapolis Star Tribune • Salon • The Plain Dealer • The Week • Kansas City Star • Slate • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly
 
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
 
“A book of extraordinary intelligence [and] humanity . . . beyond groundbreaking.”—Junot Díaz, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Reported like Watergate, written like Great Expectations, and handily the best international nonfiction in years.”—New York

“This book is both a tour de force of social justice reportage and a literary masterpiece.”—Judges’ Citation for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award
 
“[A] landmark book.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“A triumph of a book.”—Amartya Sen
 
“There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them.”—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
 
“[A] stunning piece of narrative nonfiction . . . [Katherine] Boo’s prose is electric.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“Inspiring, and irresistible . . . Boo’s extraordinary achievement is twofold. She shows us how people in the most desperate circumstances can find the resilience to hang on to their humanity. Just as important, she makes us care.”—People


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Katherine Boo

See more books from this Author
Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur "Genius" grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.
 
Published February 7, 2012 by Random House. 290 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Feb 26 2012
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Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for Behind The Beautiful Forevers
All: 41 | Positive: 37 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Excellent
Dec 01 2011

The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Amit Chaudhuri on Jun 29 2012

Boo, in letting go of her story, in dwelling with it relatively briefly in her book's 250 pages (in contrast to the years she spent with the slum-dwellers), allows it to resonate with us as a small classic of contemporary writing.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by William Dalrymple on Jun 22 2012

...Boo writes beautifully and, given her subject, surprisingly wittily. She is also wonderfully observant of human quirks...

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Pankaj Mishra on Feb 09 2012

Transcending its geographical setting, the book also provides a bracing antidote to the ideological opiates of recent decades — those that made the worldwide proliferation of gray zones appear part of a “great success narrative.”

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Charles McGrath on Feb 08 2012

...a nonfiction account of the 3,000 or so people who live in Annawadi, a “sumpy plug of slum” on the outskirts of the Mumbai airport, reads almost like a novel: a true-life version of “Slumdog Millionaire” without the Bollywood ending.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Jan 30 2012

She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction. . .

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Oct 17 2011

Boo’s rigorous inquiry and transcendent prose leave an indelible impression of human beings behind the shibboleths of the New India.

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Wall Street Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by Karan Mahajan on Feb 04 2012

. . .a vivid account of a self-contained but fragile universe tossed about by the storms of the outside world. . .

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Blog Critics

Above average
Reviewed by pmPilgrim on Sep 03 2013

It may be only a small window into a great world-wide problem made worse by globalization, but it is at least a window through which globalization may also be able to make a difference.

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Toronto Star

Excellent
Reviewed by James Macgowan on Feb 25 2012

Beautiful Forevers is an extraordinary work of journalism. Gripping, heartbreaking, penetrating and respectful. It will open your eyes.

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Toronto Star

Excellent
Reviewed by James Macgowan on Feb 25 2012

. . .one of the most remarkable elements of the book is the way we are taken inside the daily lives of the slum’s residents,

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Star Tribune

Excellent
Reviewed by Mark Kramer on Feb 11 2012

When publishers send bound galleys along to reviewers, they slip in acclamatory publicity sheets. . .the one folded into. . ."Behind the Beautiful Forevers". . . while lauding plenty, claims far too little.

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Washington Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Robert VerBruggen on Mar 26 2012

Rather than fleshing out an argument as to how to solve the problems of Annawadi, she is content to explain the facts. . .

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National Post

Above average
Reviewed by Richard Poplak on Apr 13 2012

...Behind the Beautiful Forevers is driven by Annawadi’s central and overriding tragedy: The slum dwellers could never rise up as a collective against the Man, because the Man is not a presiding villain....

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The Economist

Below average
Feb 18 2012

Ms Boo blames “government priorities and market imperatives,” which “create a world so capricious that to help a neighbour is to risk your ability to feed your family.” But this feels thin. Mumbai’s poverty is not new.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Jeff Giles on Feb 10 2012

Right now the book is sitting on my shelf making all the other books feel stupid.

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The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Shashi Tharoor on Feb 10 2012

Her research is meticulous and worthy of the most demanding sociologist;

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Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Terry Hong on Feb 20 2012

. . .pure, astonishing reportage with as un-biased a lens as possible. . .

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USA Today

Excellent
Reviewed by Deirdre Donahue on Feb 06 2012

Beautiful brings alive an almost unimaginably harsh world through the stories of individuals trying to make their way in a place few of us can imagine.

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Huffington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Warren Adler on Mar 27 2012

One comes away with admiration for these people whose lives she recounts.

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Dallas News

Excellent
Reviewed by Karen Thomas on Feb 29 2012

. . .a restrained and fine writer who has honed her reporting skills to a level that it is easy to forget you are reading nonfiction.

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Review (Barnes & Noble)

Excellent
Reviewed by Daniel Rose on Feb 10 2012

"if a reader comes away…thinking of them only as pathetic socioeconomic specimens I'll have failed as a writer." She has not failed.

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The Daily Beast

Excellent
Reviewed by Dana Goldstein on Feb 27 2012

That sort of empathy for the poor is in short supply. . . but without it, we won’t come close to understanding the depth of the poverty problem every globalized nation—including the United States—needs to address.

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Slate

Excellent
Reviewed by Elaine Blair on Feb 06 2012

. . .Boo. . .has many ways of illuminating the people she writes about. . .You can feel the richness of her affection in her ironic appreciation of their oddities.

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Chicago Tribune

Excellent
Reviewed by Alex Kotlowitz on May 11 2012

It is a book that needs to be passed along to be read and reread by all of us.

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Chicago Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor on May 04 2012

Ultimately, though, this is a inspiring book, as Boo writes that she is "continually struck by the ethical imaginations of young people, even though in circumstances so desperate that selfishness would be an asset."

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Boston.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Thrity Umrigar on Feb 05 2012

. . .an astoundingly honest, nonexploitative piece of journalism, a humane, powerful and insightful book. . .

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Cleveland.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Andrea Simakis on Feb 05 2012

. . .thanks to her careful, nuanced perception of the complex individuals living in "a single, unexceptional slum," the book doesn't devolve into poverty porn.

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The New Republic

Excellent
Reviewed by Isaac Chotiner on Feb 08 2012

Boo, who spent significant time in Annawadi, makes no effort to assist her readers in making judgments.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Excellent
Reviewed by Seamus Bradley on Mar 17 2012

. . .a great example of the power of what used to be known as immersion journalism. And a cracking read.

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Business Week

Below average
Reviewed by Patrick French on Feb 02 2012

The reader yearns for context in a study of this size, yet Boo does not provide this in a coherent way.

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St. Louis Today

Good
Reviewed by Steve Giegrich on Feb 25 2012

...the underlying message that emerges from this, surely one of the year's best books, is that the path to survival is paved with resiliency. Which in Annawadi represents the greatest triumph of all.

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Oprah.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Parul Sehgal

This is one stunning piece of narrative nonfiction. . .

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The Seattle Times

Excellent
Reviewed by David Takami on Feb 12 2012

Boo's writing skills are such that she can render even a dirty slum lovely. . .and on a deeper level, extract sublime irony from a seemingly straightforward news story.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Jan 31 2012

She writes about so many scavenging kids, boisterously quarrelsome families and corrupt officials that the book is too crowded.

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The Nation

Excellent
Reviewed by Laila Lalami on Apr 17 2012

Boo succeeds where so many reporters have failed because she has given the people of the undercity the same time and attention they would have received had they been residents of the overcity.

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Herald Sun

Excellent
Reviewed by Corrina Hente on Feb 25 2012

A beautifully written, at times funny tale that is even more moving because it's true.

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Columbia Journalism Review

Excellent
Reviewed by VV Ganeshananthan

. . .a deeply humane chronicle of a set of varied minds wearied by instability, and inventing ways through it.

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The Wall Street Journal

Below average
Reviewed by Tripti Lahiri on Feb 10 2012

. . .the minutiae of many jobs, including sorting garbage, is something that even when closely observed and thoughtfully written about, doesn’t at all times make for riveting or insightful reading.

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The Oxonian Review

Excellent
Reviewed by Megan Robb

The book is meticulously researched and demonstrates acute insight into the culture and languages of India.

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Financial Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Neil Munshi on Mar 30 2012

. . .a compelling portrait of the lives – and deaths – of the vast majority of modern Indians.

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Reader Rating for Behind The Beautiful Forevers
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