- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Feb 2012
From the book
LET IT KEEP, the moment when Officer Fish Lips met Abdul in the police station. Rewind, see Abdul running backward, away from the station and the airport, shirt buttons opening as he flies back toward his home. See the flames engulfing a disabled woman in a pink- flowered tunic shrink to nothing but a matchbook on the floor. See Fatima minutes earlier, dancing on crutches to a raucous love song, her delicate features unscathed. Keep rewinding, back seven more months, and stop at an ordinary day in January 2008. It was about as hopeful a season as there had ever been in the years since a bitty slum popped up in the biggest city of a country that holds one-third of the planet's poor. A country dizzy now with development and circulating money.
Dawn came gusty, as it often did in January, the month of treed kites and head colds. Because his family lacked the floor space for all of its members to lie down, Abdul was asleep on the gritty maidan, which for years had passed as his bed. His mother stepped carefully over one of his younger brothers, and then another, bending low to Abdul's ear. "Wake up, fool!" she said exuberantly. "You think your work is dreaming?"
Superstitious, Zehrunisa had noticed that some of the family's most profitable days occurred after she had showered abuses on her eldest son. January's income being pivotal to the family's latest plan of escape from Annawadi, she had decided to make the curses routine.
Abdul rose with minimal whining, since the only whining his mother tolerated was her own. Besides, this was the gentle-going hour in which he hated Annawadi least. The pale sun lent the sewage lake a sparkling silver cast, and the parrots nesting at the far side of the lake could still be heard over the jets. Outside his neighbors' huts, some held together by duct tape and rope, damp rags were discreetly freshening bodies. Children in school-uniform neckties were hauling pots of water from the public taps. A languid line extended from an orange concrete block of public toilets. Even goats' eyes were heavy with sleep. It was the moment of the intimate and the familial, before the great pursuit of the small market niche got under way.
One by one, construction workers departed for a crowded intersection where site supervisors chose day laborers. Young girls began threading marigolds into garlands, to be hawked in Airport Road traffic. Older women sewed patches onto pink-and-blue cotton quilts for a company that paid by the piece. In a tiny, sweltering plastic- molding factory, bare-chested men cranked gears that would turn colored beads into ornaments to be hung from rearview mirrors-smiling ducks and pink cats with jewels around their necks that they couldn't imagine anyone, anywhere, buying. And Abdul crouched on the maidan, beginning to sort two weeks' worth of purchased trash, a stained shirt hitching up his knobby spine.
His general approach toward his neighbors was this: "The better I know you, the more I will dislike you, and the more you will dislike me. So let us keep to ourselves." But deep in his own work, as he would be this morning, he could imagine his fellow Annawadians laboring companionably alongside him.
ANNAWADI SAT TWO hundred yards off the Sahar Airport Road, a stretch where new India collided with old India and made new India late. Chauffeurs in SUVs honked furiously at the bicycle delivery boys peeling off from a slum chicken shop, each carrying a rack of three hundred eggs. Annawadi itself was nothing special, in the context of the slums of Mumbai. Every house was off-kilter, so less off-kilter looked like straight. Sewage and sickness looked like life.
"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
"Incandescent writing and excruciatingly good storytelling."--The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Outstanding." - USA Today
"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
"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
"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 Mumba - Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed