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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (18,588 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Katherine Boo Narrator: Sunil Malhotra Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a stunning work of narrative nonfiction that recounts the sometimes heartbreaking and always dramatic tale of families dreaming of a better life in one of the giant, socially stratified cities of our time.

Based on three years of expert journalism, this quick moving and brilliant book brings to life an era of inequality, and unprecedented global change.

At the foot of the exclusive hotels surrounding the Mumbai airport, sits the ramshackle neighborhood of Annawadi, where the residents are full of hope for their future in a newly prosperous India. An ambitious Muslim teenager, Abdul, sees riches beyond his wildest dreams in the recyclable trash thrown away by the wealthier. Asha has mapped out her path to the middle class through political corruption. If all goes well, her daughter will become the first woman in Annawadi to graduate college. Even Kalu, a teenage scrap metal thief, feels that the good life is within reach.

But soon tragedy strikes Abdul, and the city is shaken by the global financial crisis. Tensions over power, sex, caste, religion and financial envy, suppressed in times of prosperity, are suddenly unleashed. As powerful global realities clash with the most fragile of human dreams, the hope and bravery of the Annawadians is revealed, along with the hardest truths about life in a competitive era.

With Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Boo, best known for chronicling the struggles of America's poor, shifts her insightful focus to India, paints a vivid picture of unforgettable people living in a time of violent change.

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

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 fifteen-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.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.

Download and start listening now!

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Quotes & Awards

  • “This is an astonishing book…on several levels: as a worm’s-eye view of the ‘undercity’ of one of the world’s largest metropolises; as an intensely reported, deeply felt account of the lives, hopes, and fears of people traditionally excluded from literate narratives; as a story that truly hasn’t been told before, at least not about India and not by a foreigner…[Behind the Beautiful Forevers] is a searing account, in effective and racy prose, that reads like a thrilling novel but packs a punch Sinclair Lewis might have envied.”

    Washington Post

  • “[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.”

    New York Times

  • A book of extraordinary intelligence [and] humanity . . . beyond groundbreaking. Junot Díaz, The New York Times Book Review
  • “Gripping…A brilliant novelistic narration.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “A shocking—and riveting—portrait of life in modern India…This is one stunning piece of narrative nonfiction…Boo’s prose is electric.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • Extraordinary . . . moving . . . Like the best journeys, Boo’s book cracks open our preconceptions and constructs an abiding bridge—at once daunting and inspiring—to a world we would never otherwise recognize as our own. National Geographic Traveler
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers offers a rebuke to official reports and dry statistics on the global poor. . . . Boo is one of few chroniclers providing this picture. She’s a moral force and . . . an artist of reverberating power. The American Prospect
  • Kate Boo’s reporting is a form of kinship. Abdul and Manju and Kalu of Annawadi will not be forgotten. She leads us through their unknown world, her gift of language rising up like a delicate string of necessary lights. There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
  • Reported like Watergate, written like Great Expectations, and handily the best international nonfiction in years. New York
  • “A tough-minded, inspiring, and irresistible book…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 importantly, she makes us care.”

    People (starred review)

  • “Riveting, fearlessly reported…[Beautiful Forevers] plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel. That’s partly because Boo writes so damn well. But it’s also because over the course of three years in India she got extraordinary access to the lives and minds of the Annawadi slum, a settlement nestled jarringly close to a shiny international airport and a row of luxury hotels.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “A jaw-dropping achievement, an instant classic of narrative nonfiction…With a cinematic intensity…Boo transcends and subverts every cliché, cynical or earnest, that we harbor about Indian destitution and gazes directly into the hearts, hopes, and human promise of vibrant people whom you’ll not soon forget.”

    Elle

  • “Boo creates an intimate, unforgettable portrait of India’s urban poor…The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • I couldn’t put Behind the Beautiful Forevers down even when I wanted to—when the misery, abuse and filth that Boo so elegantly and understatedly describes became almost overwhelming. Her book, situated in a slum on the edge of Mumbai’s international airport, is one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I’ve ever read. If Bollywood ever decides to do its own version of The Wire, this would be it. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
  • A beautiful account, told through real-life stories, of the sorrows and joys, the anxieties and stamina, in the lives of the precarious and powerless in urban India whom a booming country has failed to absorb and integrate. A brilliant book that simultaneously informs, agitates, angers, inspires, and instigates. Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
  • Without question the best book yet written on contemporary India. Also, the best work of narrative nonfiction I’ve read in twenty-five years. Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi
  • There is a lot to like about this book: the prodigious research that it is built on, distilled so expertly that we hardly notice how much we are being taught; the graceful and vivid prose that never calls attention to itself; and above all, the true and moving renderings of the people of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi. Garbage pickers and petty thieves, victims of gruesome injustice—Ms. Boo draws us into their lives, and they do not let us go. This is a superb book. Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains
  • It might surprise you how completely enjoyable this book is, as rich and beautifully written as a novel. In the hierarchy of long form reporting, Katherine Boo is right up there. David Sedaris
  • “The most riveting Indian story since Slumdog Millionaire—except hers is true.”

    Marie Claire

  • “An unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honesty…Pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “A mind-blowing read.”

    Redbook

  • “Moving…A humane, powerful, and insightful book…A book of nonfiction so stellar it puts most novels to shame.”

    Boston Globe

  • 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
  • Incandescent writing and excruciatingly good storytelling. The Philadelphia Inquirer
     
  • Outstanding. USA Today
     
  • “Extraordinary…Moving…Like the best journeys, Boo’s book cracks open our preconceptions and constructs an abiding bridge—at once daunting and inspiring—to a world we would never otherwise recognize as our own.”

    National Geographic Traveler

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers offers a rebuke to official reports and dry statistics on the global poor…Boo is one of few chroniclers providing this picture. She’s a moral force and…an artist of reverberating power.”

    American Prospect

  • “Seamless and intimate…A scrupulously true story…It’s tempting to compare [Behind the Beautiful Forevers] to a novel, but…that would hardly do it justice.”

  • A richly detailed tapestry of tragedy and triumph told by a seemingly omniscient narrator with an attention to detail that reads like fiction while in possession of the urgent humanity of nonfiction. Los Angeles Times
  • Rends the heart, thrills the mind, pricks the conscience, and burns the pages. Washingtonian
  • [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
  • A jaw-dropping achievement, an instant classic of narrative nonfiction . . . With a cinematic intensity . . . Boo transcends and subverts every cliché, cynical or earnest, that we harbor about Indian destitution and gazes directly into the hearts, hopes, and human promise of vibrant people whom you’ll not soon forget. Elle
  • Riveting, fearlessly reported . . . [Behind the Beautiful Forevers] plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel. That’s partly because Boo writes so damn well. But it’s also because over the course of three years in India she got extraordinary access to the lives and minds of the Annawadi slum, a settlement nestled jarringly close to a shiny international airport and a row of luxury hotels. Grade: A. Entertainment Weekly
  • A tough-minded, inspiring, and irresistible book . . . 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 importantly, she makes us care. People (four stars) 
  • A shocking—and riveting—portrait of life in modern India . . . This is one stunning piece of narrative nonfiction. . . . Boo’s prose is electric. O: The Oprah Magazine
  • [A] landmark book. The Wall Street Journal
  • Moving . . . a humane, powerful and insightful book . . . a book of nonfiction so stellar it puts most novels to shame. The Boston Globe
  • A mind-blowing read. Redbook
  • An unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honesty . . . pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible. The Christian Science Monitor
  • The most riveting Indian story since Slumdog Millionaire—except hers is true. Marie Claire
  • Seamless and intimate . . . a scrupulously true story . . . It’s tempting to compare [Behind the Beautiful Forevers] to a novel, but . . . that would hardly do it justice. Salon
  • Winner of the 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Nonfiction
  • Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction
  • Winner of the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A USA Today Bestseller
  • A 2012 Washington Post Top 10 Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 USA Today Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book for Nonfiction
  • Newsday’s Favorite Books of the Year for Nonfiction, 2012
  • A 2012 People Magazine Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Entertainment Weekly Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Economist Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Financial Times Best Book of the Year for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Seattle Times Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Kansas City Star Top 100 Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Slate Magazine Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Publishers Weekly Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Guardian First Book Award Finalist
  • A 2012 Barnes & Noble Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2012 New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
  • A 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction Nominee
  • A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
  • A 2012 Wall Street Journal Best Book
  • A 2012 New Yorker’s Best Books
  • A 2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book
  • A 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
  • A 2012 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • A 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for General Nonfiction
  • A 2012 Salon Magazine Best Book

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Ranjini | 2/20/2014

    " More impressive when you realize in the acknowledgements that it's based on real, observed events! A fascinating look at poverty in the slums of India; definitely puts life in perspective. The only detraction is the story doesn't follow a central character; more a collection of stories. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Kyla | 2/19/2014

    " This was excellent...if you truly want to be depressed about the human condition. Shook the way I think about human nature. The "hope" part of the title wasn't very evident to me. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Maryann | 2/7/2014

    " This was a difficult book to read due to its content. These poor people faced challenges that i could never imagine. They were so poor and no matter how they tried to better themselves they were trapped by a very corrupt government. My heart broke for them. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jeanne Woodward | 1/27/2014

    " A good read. I would like to have read the Author's Note (at the end) first because it informed my view of this story in a more compassionate way. "

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