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Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity

Written by Katherine BooAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Katherine Boo


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On Sale: February 07, 2012
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-679-64395-1
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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
The New York Times • The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • USA Today • New York • The Miami Herald • San Francisco Chronicle • Newsday
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
“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




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.

The slum had been settled in 1991 by a band of laborers trucked in from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu to repair a runway at the international airport. When the runway work was complete, they decided to stay near the airport and its tantalizing construction possibilities. In an area with little unclaimed space, a sodden, snake-filled bit of brushland across the street from the international terminal seemed the least-bad place to live.

Other poor people considered the spot too wet to be habitable, but the Tamils set to work, hacking down the brush that harbored the snakes, digging up dirt in drier places and packing it into the mud. After a month, their bamboo poles stopped flopping over when they were stuck in the ground. Draping empty cement sacks over the poles for cover, they had a settlement. Residents of neighboring slums provided its name: Annawadi-the land of annas, a respectful Tamil word for older brothers. Less respectful terms for Tamil migrants were in wider currency. But other poor citizens had seen the Tamils sweat to summon solid land from a bog, and that labor had earned a certain deference.

Seventeen years later, almost no one in this slum was considered poor by official Indian benchmarks. Rather, the Annawadians were among roughly one hundred million Indians freed from poverty since 1991, when, around the same moment as the small slum's founding, the central government embraced economic liberalization. The Annawadians were thus part of one of the most stirring success narratives in the modern history of global market capitalism, a narrative still unfolding.

True, only six of the slum's three thousand residents had permanent jobs. (The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers, were part of the informal, unorganized economy.) True, a few residents trapped rats and frogs and fried them for dinner. A few ate the scrub grass at the sewage lake's edge. And these individuals, miserable souls, thereby made an inestimable contribution to their neighbors. They gave those slumdwellers who didn't fry rats and eat weeds, like Abdul, a felt sense of their upward mobility.

The airport district was spewing waste that winter, the peak season for tourism, business travel, and society weddings, whose lack of restraint in 2008 reflected a stock market at an all-time high. Better still for Abdul, a frenzy of Chinese construction in advance of the summer's Beijing Olympics had inflated the price of scrap metal worldwide. It was a fine time to be a Mumbai garbage-trader, not that that was the term passersby used for Abdul. Some called him garbage, and left it at that.

This morning, culling screws and hobnails from his pile, he tried to keep an eye on Annawadi's goats, who liked the smell of the dregs in his bottles and the taste of the paste beneath the labels. Abdul didn't ordinarily mind them nosing around, but these days they were fonts of liquid shit-a menace.

The goats belonged to a Muslim man who ran a brothel from his hut and considered his whores a pack of malingerers. In an attempt to diversify, he had been raising the animals to sell for sacrifice at Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. The goats had proved as troublesome as the girls, though. Twelve of the herd of twenty-two had died, and the survivors were in intestinal distress. The brothelkeeper blamed black magic on the part of the Tamils who ran the local liquor still. Others suspected the goats' drinking source, the sewage lake.

Late at night, the contractors modernizing the airport dumped things in the lake. Annawadians also dumped things there: most recently, the decomposing carcasses of twelve goats. Whatever was in that soup, the pigs and dogs that slept in its shallows emerged with bellies stained blue. Some creatures survived the lake, though, and not only the malarial mosquitoes. As the morning went on, a fisherman waded through the water, one hand pushing aside cigarette packs and blue plastic bags, the other dimpling the surface with a net. He would take his catch to the Marol market to be ground into fish oil, a health product for which demand had surged now that it was valued in the West.

Rising to shake out a cramp in his calf, Abdul was surprised to find the sky as brown as flywings, the sun signaling through the haze of pollution the arrival of afternoon. When sorting, he routinely lost track of the hour. His little sisters were playing with the One Leg's daughters on a makeshift wheelchair, a cracked plastic lawn chair flanked by rusted bicycle wheels. Mirchi, already home from ninth grade, was sprawled in the doorway of the family hut, an unread math book on his lap.

Mirchi was impatiently awaiting his best friend, Rahul, a Hindu boy who lived a few huts away, and who had become an Annawadi celebrity. This month, Rahul had done what Mirchi dreamed of: broken the barrier between the slum world and the rich world.

Rahul's mother, Asha, a kindergarten teacher with mysterious connections to local politicians and the police, had managed to secure him several nights of temp work at the Intercontinental Hotel, across the sewage lake. Rahul-a pie-faced, snaggle-toothed ninth grader-had seen the overcity opulence firsthand.

And here he came, wearing an ensemble purchased from the profits of this stroke of fortune: cargo shorts that rode low on his hips, a shiny oval belt buckle of promising recyclable weight, a black knit cap pulled down to his eyes. "Hip-hop style," Rahul termed it. The previous day had been the sixtieth anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, a national holiday on which elite Indians once considered it poor taste to throw an extravagant party. But Rahul had worked a manic event at the Intercontinental, and knew Mirchi would appreciate the details.

"Mirchi, I cannot lie to you," Rahul said, grinning. "On my side of the hall there were five hundred women in only half-clothes-like they forgot to put on the bottom half before they left the house!"

"Aaagh, where was I?" said Mirchi. "Tell me. Anyone famous?"

"Everyone famous! A Bollywood party. Some of the stars were in the VIP area, behind a rope, but John Abraham came out to near where I was. He had this thick black coat, and he was smoking cigarettes right in front of me. And Bipasha Basu was supposedly there, but I couldn't be sure it was really her or just some other item girl, because if the manager sees you looking at the guests, he'll fire you, take your whole pay-they told us that twenty times before the party started, like we were weak in the head. You have to focus on the tables and the rug. Then when you see a dirty plate or a napkin you have to snatch it and take it to the trash bin in the back. Oh, that room was looking nice. First we laid this thick white carpet-you stood on it and sank right down. Then they lit white candles and made it dark like a disco, and on this one table the chef put two huge dolphins made out of flavored ice. One dolphin had cherries for eyes-"

"Bastard, forget the fish, tell me about the girls," Mirchi protested. "They want you to look when they dress like that."

"Seriously, you can't look. Not even at the rich people's toilets. Security will chuck you out. The toilets for the workers were nice, though. You have a choice between Indian- or American-style." Rahul, who had a patriotic streak, had peed in the Indian one, an open drain in the floor.

Other boys joined Rahul outside the Husains' hut. Annawadians liked to talk about the hotels and the depraved things that likely went on inside. One drug-addled scavenger talked to the hotels: "I know you're trying to kill me, you sisterfucking Hyatt!" But Rahul's accounts had special value, since he didn't lie, or at least not more than one sentence out of twenty. This, along with a cheerful disposition, made him a boy whose privileges other boys did not resent.

Rahul gamely conceded he was a nothing compared with the Intercontinental's regular workers. Many of the waiters were college-

educated, tall, and light-skinned, with cellphones so shiny their owners could fix their hair in the reflections. Some of the waiters had mocked Rahul's long, blue-painted thumbnail, which was high masculine style at Annawadi. When he cut the nail off, they'd teased him about how he talked. The Annawadians' deferential term for a rich man, sa'ab, was not the proper term in the city's moneyed quarters, he reported to his friends. "The waiters say it makes you sound D- class-like a thug, a tapori," he said. "The right word is sir."

"Sirrrrrrr," someone said, rolling the r's, then everyone started saying it, laughing.

The boys stood close together, though there was plenty of space in the maidan. For people who slept in close quarters, his foot in my mouth, my foot in hers, the feel of skin against skin got to be a habit. Abdul stepped around them, upending an armful of torn paper luggage tags on the maidan and scrambling after the tags that blew away. The other boys paid him no notice. Abdul didn't talk much, and when he did, it was as if he'd spent weeks privately working over some little idea. He might have had a friend or two if he'd known how to tell a good story.

Once, working on this shortcoming, he'd floated a tale about having been inside the Intercontinental himself-how a Bollywood movie called Welcome had been filming there, and how he'd seen Katrina Kaif dressed all in white. It had been a feeble fiction. Rahul had seen through it immediately. But Rahul's latest report would allow Abdul's future lies to be better informed.

A Nepali boy asked Rahul about the women in the hotels. Through slats in the hotel fences, he had seen some of them smoking-"not one cigarette, but many"-while they waited for their drivers to pull up to the entrance. "Which village do they come from, these women?"

"Listen, idiot," Rahul said affectionately. "The white people come from all different countries. You're a real hick if you don't know this basic thing."

"Which countries? America?"

Rahul couldn't say. "But there are so many Indian guests in the hotels, too, I guarantee you." Indians who were "healthy-sized"-big and fat, as opposed to stunted, like the Nepali boy and many other children here.

Rahul's first job had been the Intercontinental's New Year's Eve party. The New Year's bashes at Mumbai's luxury hotels were renowned, and scavengers had often returned to Annawadi bearing discarded brochures. Celebrate 2008 in high style at Le Royal Meridien Hotel! Take a stroll down the streets of Paris splurging with art, music & food. Get scintillated with live performances. Book your boarding passes and Bon Voyage! 12,000 rupees per couple, with champagne. The advertisements were printed on glossy paper, for which recyclers paid two rupees, or four U.S. cents, per kilo.

Rahul had been underwhelmed by the New Year's rituals of the rich. "Moronic," he had concluded. "Just people drinking and dancing and standing around acting stupid, like people here do every night."

"The hotel people get strange when they drink," he told his friends. "Last night at the end of the party, there was one hero-

good-looking, stripes on his suit, expensive cloth. He was drunk, full tight, and he started stuffing bread into his pants pockets, jacket pockets. Then he put more rolls straight into his pants! Rolls fell on the floor and he was crawling under the table to get them. This one waiter was saying the guy must have been hungry, earlier- that whiskey brought back the memory. But when I get rich enough to be a guest at a big hotel, I'm not going to act like such a loser."
Katherine Boo

About Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo - Behind the Beautiful Forevers
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.


“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 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
Reader's Guide|Teachers Guide

About the Book

1. Barbara Ehrenreich calls Behind the Beautiful Forevers “one of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I’ve ever read.” Yet the book shows the world of the Indian rich–lavish Bollywood parties, an increasingly glamorous new airport–almost exclusively through the eyes of the Annawadians. Are they resentful? Are they envious? How does the wealth that surrounds the slumdwellers shape their own expectations and hopes?

2. As Abdul works day and night with garbage, keeping his head down, trying to support his large family, some other citydwellers think of him as garbage, too. How does Abdul react to how other people view him? How would you react? How do Abdul and his sort-of friend, Sunil, try to protect themselves and sustain self-esteem in the face of other people’s contempt?

3. The lives of ordinary women– their working lives, domestic lives, and inner lives–are an important part of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The author has noted elsewhere that she’d felt a shortage of such accounts in nonfiction about urban India. Do women like Zehrunisa and Asha have more freedom in an urban slum than they would have had in the villages where they were born? What is Meena, a Dalit, spared by living in the city? What freedoms do Meena, Asha, and Zehrunisa still lack, in your view?

4. Asha grew up in rural poverty, and the teenaged marriage arranged by her family was to a man who drank more than he worked. In Annawadi, she takes a series of calculated risks to give her daughter Manju a life far more hopeful than that of other young women such as Meena. What does Asha lose by her efforts to improve her daughter’s life chances? What does she gain? Were Asha’s choices understandable to you, in the end?

5. The author has said elsewhere that while the book brings to light serious injustices, she believes there is also hope on almost every single page: in the imaginations, intelligence and courage of the people she writes about. What are the qualities of a child like Sunil that might flourish in a society that did a better job of recognizing his capacities?

6. When we think of corruption, the examples tend to be drawn from big business or top levels of government. The kind of corruption Behind the Beautiful Forevers show us is often described as “petty”. Do you agree with that characterization of the corruption Annawadians encounter in their daily lives? Why might such corrruption be on the increase as India grows wealthier as a nation?

7. Does Asha have a point when she argues that something isn’t wrong if the powerful people say that it’s right? How does constant exposure to corruption change a person’s internal understanding of right and wrong?

8. Shortly before Abdul is sent to juvenile jail, a major newspaper runs a story about the facility headlined: “Dongri Home is a Living Hell.” Abdul’s experience of Dongri is more complex, though. How does being wrenched away from his work responsibilities at Annawadi change his understandings of the hardships of other people? Are terms like liberty and freedom understood differently by people who live in different conditions?

9. Fatima’s neighbors view her whorling rages, like her bright lipsticks, as free comic entertainments. How has her personality been shaped by the fact that she has been defined since birth by her disability–very literally named by it? Zehrunusa waivers between sympathy for and disapproval of her difficult neighbor. In the end, did you?

10. Zehrunisa remembers a time when every slumdweller was roughly equal in his or her misery, and competition between neighbors didn’t get so out of hand. Abdul doesn’t know whether or not to believe her account of a gentler past. Do you believe it? Might increased hopes for a better life have a dark as well as a bright side?

11. Many Annawadians–Hindu, Muslim, and Christian– spend less time in religious observance than they did when they were younger, and a pink temple on the edge of the sewage lake goes largely unused. In a time of relative hope and constant improvisation for the slumdwellers, why might religious practice be diminishing? What role does religious faith still play in the slumdwellers’ lives?

12. Who do you think had the best life in the book, and why?

13. In the Author’s Note Katherine Boo emphasizes the volatility of an age in which capital moves quickly around the planet, government supports decline, and temporary work proliferates. Had the author followed the families of Annawadi for only a few weeks or months, would you have come away with a different understanding of the effects of that volatility? Does uncertainty about their homes and incomes change how Annawadians view their neighbors? Does economic uncertainty affect relationships where you live?

14. At one point in the book, Abdul takes to heart the moral of a Hindu myth related by The Master: Allow your flesh to be eaten by the eagles of the world. Suffer nobly, and you’ll be rewarded in the end. What is the connection between suffering and redemption in this book? What connections between suffering and redemption do you see in your own life? Are the sufferers ennobled? Are the good rewarded in the end?

Teacher's Guide


Please click on the PDF link below to download the Teacher's Guide.

Annawadi is a trash-strewn slum by the Mumbai international airport—a slum surrounded on all sides by luxury hotels. The hotels and airport are gleaming talismans, announcing India’s new status as the second-fastest-growing economy on earth. Katherine Boo’s book, a work of narrative nonfiction, tells a story of the new India that is more hidden than Mumbai’s grand new buildings. She recounts three years in the lives of the families who work and dream in prosperity’s shadow, and who call Annawadi their home.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers begins by introducing the reader to Abdul, a Muslim teenager who buys rich people’s garbage and sells it to recyclers to support his family of eleven. Boo’s account of Abdul’s work and life—including a wrongful imprisonment by a brutal police force—allows the reader to experience the sometimes harsh realities of slum life with intimacy and immediacy. Through the experiences of other families, the author shows how corruption in institutions from the public hospitals to charities to the educational system undermines community life. At the same time, the book explores how deep friendships, family relationships, and personal philosophies keep many young Annawadians hopeful in a time of global change. In the end, by documenting the social, political, economic, and environmental forces that shape daily life and moral choices at Annawadi, the book reveals the formidable obstacles to equality and social mobility in India. But beyond that, it reveals the extraordinary courage and ingenuity of seemingly ordinary families who are trying to fight their way out of poverty in a fast-changing global age.
This guide is separated into three sections: Style and Structure, Comprehension and Discussion, and Personal Essays. The intent of the prompts in the first two sections is to foster classroom and group discussion. The Personal Essays section is intended for further reflective and/or investigative individual responses.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a powerful work of narrative nonfiction, supports the national Common Core State Standards for high school curriculums in the reading of informational text, historical text, and, in some instances, literature. Each question and prompt in this guide references particular Common Core State Standards. The specific language of these standards is delineated at the end of this guide. A complete list of Common Core State Standards can be found at http://www.corestandards.org/thestandards.
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 for Public Service, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.
Style and Structure
1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers opens with Abdul Husain hiding from the police after his disabled neighbor accuses him, his father, and his older sister of setting her on fire. As Abdul burrows in his trash shed, Boo provides brief and stark contrasting descriptions of squatters’ living conditions in Annawadi and the buildings surrounding India’s gleaming international airport, Why do you think the author opens the book with this particular incident and the contrasting descriptions? (RI. 11-12.6)
2. The next sections of the book are: 1) “Undercitizens,” 2) “The Business of Burning,” 3) “A Little Wildness,” and 4) “Up and Out.” In “Undercitizens,” Boo introduces the reader to other Annawadi residents besides Abdul, including Asha, an aspiring Annawadi politician; Sunil, an essentially orphaned trash scavenger; and Manju, Asha’s virtuous daughter, who is poised to become Annawadi’s first female college graduate. “The Business of Burning” is about how economic hope and official corruption intensify conflicts among Annawadians. “A Little Wildness” details the shocking deaths of several young Annawadians, which get covered up by public officials. Finally, “Up and Out” provides closure to the immediate conflicts presented in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. These closures are largely psychological in nature. While some Annawadians have finally moved “up” in social status, they are certainly not “out”—free from the undercity’s grip. Others retain the same undercity position yet have gathered inner strength to go on trying. Each of these sections begins with a quote from an Annawadi resident. Discuss the choice of quotes and their relation to the section titles. (RI. 11-12.5, RH. 11-12.5)
3. Reviews of this book often say it reads like a novel. In the Author’s Note, however, the writer reveals the years of reporting and documentary evidence, from videotape to official records, that are behind this true, nonfiction story. Why do you think the author put this information at the end, and put Abdul’s experience in the trash shed at the beginning? Do you agree or disagree with Boo’s choice?
1. In the prologue, we are introduced to Abdul, who is hiding after being accused of attempted murder. He is Muslim, a religious minority in the largely Hindu slum of Annawadi. (Note: A brief history of Hindu-Muslim tension since Indian independence from Britain will enhance the reading experience. See the bibliography at the end of this guide.) What are the two reasons Abdul is fearful of his neighbors? Discuss the role religion plays in initiating this conflict. (RI. 11-12.7, RH. 11-12.3)
2. Make a list of the items found in Abdul’s shed. As you read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, analyze what this trash reveals about how people live in the overcity—a world Abdul understands only through its throwaways. (RL. 11-12.6)
3. Abdul’s motto is to “avoid trouble.” Why is this especially important to him? Is this a reasonable philosophy of life in a place like Annawadi? (RI. 9-10.8)
Part One: Undercitizens
1. In this section, life in Annawadi is described in further detail, and the reader is introduced to the main subjects of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Beginning with the introductions in this section and continuing through the rest of the book, create a character traits graphic organizer for each of the following people: Abdul, Zehrunisa, Fatima, Asha, Sunil, and Manju. (Note: Dr. Janet Allen’s “Fleshing Out a Character” organizer from her book Yellow Brick Roads (Stenhouse, 2000) is an excellent example.) Essentially, the chart on each individual should log their thoughts, plans, words, feelings, deeds, actions, strengths, and weaknesses. (RI. 11-12.3)
2. What impact do the Beijing Olympics have on the Annawadi economy and the hopes of the people who live there? What does this impact tell you about the garbage trade’s connection to global markets? (RI. 11-12.1, RI. 11-12.3)
3. What do Annawadians no longer eat, now that they are less poor? (RH. 11-12.1)
4. Describe the sewage lake and what gets dumped in it. Is it a metaphor for the quality of
life in Annawadi? Why or why not? (RI. 11-12.1, RI. 11-12.2)
5. Explain Asha’s observation in Chapter 2 that “[s]he had by now seen past the obvious truth—that Mumbai was a hive of hope and ambition—to a profitable corollary. Mumbai was a place of festering grievance and ambient envy.” (RI. 11-12.4, RI. 11-12.6)
6. Why do the Annawadians seek Asha’s counsel? How does she decide whom she will assist? (RI. 11-12.3)
7. Asha describes her memory of childhood hunger as a taste. How have her actions in Annawadi been shaped by growing up in a rural village where the girls in the family had to go hungry when food was short? (RI. 11-12.1, RI. 11-12.6)
8. In Chapter 3, the reader is introduced to twelve-year-old Sunil Sharma, a Hindu garbage scavenger who has essentially raised himself. Describe his upbringing to this point. What experiences have given him the skill of seeing through people’s actions to the motives behind those actions? (RI. 11-12.3)
9. What does the observation that Sunil “minded being unpitiable only at mealtime” (p. 34) tell you about his character? (RI. 11-12.3)
10. As he searches for recyclable trash, Sunil regularly walks along a concrete wall advertising “Beautiful Forever” Italianate floor tile. Contrast the quality of life of Indian citizens who are able to purchase this luxury tile versus Sunil’s quality of life. (RI. 11-12.2, RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.6)
11. What does Sunil decide he needs to do in order to grow? Describe the place Sunil finally discovers where trash is plentiful. (RI. 1112.3)
12. What are the three distinct regions of Annawadi? (RI. 11-12.3)
13. Describe Kalu and the entertainment he provides to the other boys. Why might gifts like his become valuable in a community where people have little disposable income? (RI. 11-12.3)
14. Why does Sunil decide to remain a scavenger instead of a thief? What role does the Will Smith movie play in his decision? (RI. 11-12.3)
15. In Chapter 4, what does Corporator Subhash Sawant do, illegally, to qualify to run for the Ward 76 office? Why do the residents of the slum support him even though he is corrupt? (RI. 11-12.3)
16. For how long does potable water dribble through the six “trickle-taps” each morning? (RI. 1112.1, RI. 1112.3)
17. Who stirs the people up at the temple? Who do they believe is answering their questions? Consider the role uncertainty plays in their lives as squatters on airport land. Does that uncertainty increase their appreciation for a stranger who claims to have answers to their questions? (RI. 11-12.3)
18. What is Manju’s college experience like at the all-girl college? (RI. 11-12.3)
19. What problem does Manju face understanding the phrase “Love is subordinated”? Why can’t she ask the college boy who lives near her for help in understanding the word? What does her reasoning tell you about how gender relationships differ in different countries? (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.4)

20. What does Manju do when she “by-hearts”? Why is she confused by the names in The Way of the World by William Congreve? Do you have similar problems with the names of the many characters in this book? (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11.4)
21. How did Manju get the scar on her neck? How did it change her behavior? (RI. 1112.3)
22. How is Manju rebellious? (RI. 11-12.3)
23. Asha belongs to the Shiv Sena political party. Research its founder Bal Thackeray. Will his belief that migrants should be expelled from Mumbai help Annawadians? Why or why not? (RI. 11-12.1, RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.7, RH. 11-12.1, RH. 11-12.3)
24. According to the slum dwellers, what are the three ways to escape poverty? (RH. 11-12.2)
25. Describe Meena and her relationship with her family. How are Meena’s parents different from Asha in what they allow their daughter to do? (RI. 11-12.3)
26. What do you think the author means when she says Meena’s “defiance spoke to something inside Manju” (p. 67)? (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.4)
27. What has not yet infected Sunil’s mind? (RI. 11-12.3)
Part Two: The Business of Burning
1. Describe life in Annawadi during monsoon season. (RH. 11-12.3)
2. In what ways is Zehrunisa compassionate toward Fatima? (RI. 1112.3)
3. How does the name that the Annawadians give to Fatima damage her self-esteem? How did her parents’ shame affect her growing up? How does her belated discovery that she is attractive liberate her? (RH. 11-12.3)
4. In Chapter 6, the Husains empty their hut onto the maidan (the “open field”). What of the Husains’ possessions demonstrates their economic well-being? (RH. 11-12.3)
5. What does Vasai represent to Karam and Zehrunisa? (RI. 11-12.3, RH. 11-12.3)
6. What security do Annawadians hope the hut improvements will provide? (RH. 11-12.3)
7. After a shoving match on the maidan, Fatima and Zehrunisa end up at the Sahar police station. Why doesn’t Zehrunisa want Asha’s help in the police station? (RI. 11-12.3, RH. 11-12.3)
8. With whom does family authority reside during the Husain crisis? (RI.11-12.3,RH.11-12.3)
9. What do you think Fatima’s objective was when she set herself on fire? (RI. 11-12.3)
10. Why wouldn’t the onlookers give Fatima water? (RH. 11-12.3)
11. In Chapter 7, of all the firsts that Fatima experiences in the burn ward, which is the most unexpected? (RI. 11-12.3)
12. Why can’t Fatima tell the truth? (RI. 11-12.3, RH. 11-12.3)
13. Who discredits Fatima’s story about being set on fire? How did this unexpected witness come to see what had happened in Fatima’s hut? (RI. 11-12.3)
14. Do you have any compassion for Fatima at this point in the story? (RI.11-12.1)
15. Why does Officer Poornima Paikrao help Fatima give a revised account of the burning?
(RI. 11-12.3, RH. 11-12.3)
16. What two important items is Cooper Hospital lacking? Why? (RH. 11-12.3)
17. Comment on Abdul’s explanation of the incident between Fatima and his mother, “She has taken a small quarrel with my mother and stretched the thing like rubber.” (p. 106) (RI. 11-12.3, RH. 11-12.3)
18. Why is Kehkashan desperate for the fakir’s blessing? Who leans against her during this episode? (RI. 11-12.3)
19. Describe Fatima’s postmortem report and the records room where the report is delivered. Why does the author note the birds and trees thriving just outside the room? (RI. 11-12.6, RH. 11-12.3)
20. Explain the irony in the Muslim purification ritual performed on Fatima’s body. What loss does Zehrunisa mourn most afterward, and why? (RI. 11-12.1, RI. 11-12.6)
21. In Chapter 8, what consolation does Sunil find behind an airport road wall? Why does he keep it a secret? (RI. 11-12.3)
22. Describe how Zehrunisa’s life has “come apart” up to this point. (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.6)
23. Zehrunisa remembers Saddam Hussein “killing a lot of people somewhere” (p. 122) before Abdul was born. Research the Kurdish massacres under the Hussein regime to calculate Abdul’s approximate age. How does his mother “prove” his age to the criminal justice system? (RI. 11-12.7, RH. 11-12.7)
24. Abdul’s parents tell him they chose his name because Abdul Hakim means “a person who cures others just by his own understanding.” Does the meaning of his name match his personality? Why or why not? (RI. 11-12.3)
25. What thoughts repulse Abdul while being locked in a small, claustrophobic room at the jail? Why did those thoughts surface? (RI.11-12.3)
26. At the detention center, what is Abdul able to do—possibly for the first time ever? (RI. 11-12.3)
27. Describe the Master. Describe the Master’s outsized impact on Abdul and the influence of a Hindu myth on Abdul’s decision to be a better person. (RI. 11-12.3)
Part Three: A Little Wildness
1. In Chapter 9, Asha’s purpose for taking her family to her rural homeland, the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, is twofold. Explain. (RI. 11-12.3)
2. What do Asha’s relatives understand about life in Mumbai compared to life in rural India just by looking at the visitors from Annawadi? (RI.11-12.1)
3. How is the wealth in the new India distributed? What group makes up nearly a quarter of India’s GDP? Are the rural poor very knowledgeable about the government programs designed to help them? (RH. 11-12.1, RH. 11-12.3)
4. Describe the “Red Belt.” Research Maoist insurgencies in India. What do they reveal about the skepticism some poor people feel about the Indian growth story? (RH. 11-12.3, RH. 11-12.7, RH. 11-12.9)
5. Describe Anil’s personal experience of new “improvements” in farming technique and
practice. Do they make him better or worse off as a sharecropper? (RH. 11-12.1)
6. What is bittersweet about Anil’s dream? (RH. 11-12.1)
7. Why does Manju comment, “Marquee Effect” (p. 143), as she gazes at her bell bottoms and tunic in the mirror? (RI. 11-12.3)
8. Asha has made one migration, from rural to urban India. What is the second migration she is now trying to make? Which of these migrations do you think is harder?
9. Daughters are considered a liability to Annawadians. Have the women in this book been liabilities to their families? Explain. (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.3)
10. After passing the state board exams and another year of study, Manju will be qualified to teach. However she has no hope of securing a government teaching position. Why? (RH. 11-12.2)
11. For Manju, what is the best part of participating in the Indian Civil Defense Corps practice maneuvers? (RH. 11-12.3)
12. What does Asha do on her fortieth birthday? How is this action significant in terms of her quest for overcitizen acceptance? What does her husband do? (RH. 11-12.3)
13. In Chapter 10, Sunil, Rahul (Manju’s brother), Zehrunisa, and Mr. Kamble all pass by a scavenger crying for help while lying in the mud of an airport thoroughfare. The scavenger’s leg has been mangled—probably from being run over by a vehicle. Describe each individual’s reason for not lending a hand. Are these reasons valid? What would you have done for this man? Do you think your response would be different if you subsisted as the Annawadians do? (RI. 11-12.2, RH. 11-12.8)
14. What are the official causes of death of the three unidentified people? What is the purpose of the inaccuracies? (RI. 11-12.1)
15. The deaths disconcert Sunil, as do the rumors. What are these rumors? (RI. 11-12.1)
16. According to Sunil, Kalu is like one of the parrots that nest in the jamun fruit tree at the far side of the sewage lake. Why does he make this comparison? What leads him to make this comparison? (RI. 11-12.3)
17. After his capture, what agreement does Kalu make with the local police? (RH. 11-12.1)
18. What has Kalu been calling Zehrunisa for a year? Why do you think Abdul is concerned
about it? (RI. 11-12.3)
19. Explain Abdul’s terror upon learning about the death of Kalu in Chapter 11. Does it make sense to you, given his previous experience with the police? (RI. 11-12.3)
20. After watching Kalu’s corpse being packed into a police van, Sunil walks back to Annawadi—past the “Beautiful Forever” advertising splayed across the wall that blocks airport patrons’ views of the slum. What does the concept of beauty mean to you? What dimensions of beauty are represented in the book? Consider the Italian tiles, the parrots, Kalu’s deathbed, and Kalu himself. (RI. 11-12.4)
21. What is Kalu’s official cause of death? How does this official account improve the Sahar precinct’s reputation? (RI. 11-12.1)
22. In what dilemma has Sanjay found himself? (RI. 11-12.3)
23. Why does Sanjay’s mother toss his prescriptions into the gutter? (RI. 11-12.3)
24. What bond do the deaths of Kalu and Sanjay create for Abdul and Sunil? Why does Boo continue to refer to their relationship as “not quite friends” (p. 171)? (RI. 11-12.1)
25. Who does Kalu’s father blame for the death of his son? Does it make sense, in context of the behavior of powerful people in this book, that he blames a relatively powerless individual? (RI. 11-12.3)
26. Sanjay’s name is of Hindi and Sanskrit origin. It means “conquering” and “triumphant.” Describe the final moments of his life—including his “broken heart” music (p. 170) and what his mother discovers he held in his heart (p.172)—as they relate/correspond to his name. (RL. 11-12.6, RI. 11-12.3)
Part Four: Up and Out
1. List some examples from Chapter 12 that show how Asha is now the Annawadi slumlord. (RI.11-12.3)
2. Fatima’s immolation has a varying impact on the community depending on which Annawadian women discuss the event. Explain. (RI. 11-12.3)
3. What do Manju and Meena discuss during their secret meetings at the public toilet? (RI. 11-12.3)
4. Describe the difference between Manju’s methods of coping and Meena’s methods. Which do you think is the better method? (RI. 11-12.3)
5. What organizations contribute money to Navratri Festival? What do these organizations hope to gain by their contribution? (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.6)
6. What impact does the recession in the West have on the Annawadian economy? (RI. 11-12.3)
7. Compare Meena’s favorite commercial, “Mirinda orange soda, more fun, a little wildness” (p. 180), with her own daily life and the choices she makes in this section of the book. (RI. 11-12.3)
8. Meena is a dalit, or what was once called an Untouchable or an “outcaste.” What advantages does she have in the city that she fears losing in a rural village?
9. How does Meena’s mother respond to Manju’s pronouncement that Meena is going to die? (RI.11-12.3)
10. Why is Manju afraid to call for help when she realizes what Meena has done? What does that tell you about arranged marriage and the importance of a young woman’s reputation? (RI.11-12.3)
11. In Chapter 13, as the Tamil game-shed owner tries to explain why the American bank crisis affects the Annawadi recycling business, the richest man in India, Mukesh Ambani, is still building a twenty-seven-story house in Mumbai. What is the author suggesting by drawing out this contrast? (RI. 11-12.3)
12. How far a distance is Annawadi from the place where the Pakistani jihadists attacked the Mumbai luxury hotels on November 26, 2008? Why does Sunil feel the Taj Mahal Hotel is like Anna’s game parlor? How do the terrorist attacks ultimately affect him and the other workers of Annawadi? (RI. 11-12.3)
13. The author states, “Here in Annawadi, every home looked a little like the family who had made it” (p. 190). What was the insight of Abdul’s brother when he saw the Taj Mahal Hotel, the train station, and the other besieged buildings in South Mumbai? (RI. 11-12.3)
14. What do Annawadians have to relearn how to digest during the global recession? (RI.11-12.3)
15. Why does Sunil like to escape to the roof of the airport parking garage? (RI. 11-12.3)
16. Finally, what wish has Sunil Sharma been granted? (RI. 11-12.3)
17. What is ironic about the Husain celebration of Eid? (RI. 11-12.3, RL. 11-12.6)
18. In Chapter 15, Abdul thinks that Kasab, a terrorist, is luckier than the Husains. Why?
Do you agree? (RI. 11-12.3)
19. Why is Abdul’s observation that life in Mumbai feels the same after the terrorist attacks a hopeful one to him?
20. Why are rich Indians more politically involved after the attacks? (RI. 11-12.3)
21. Describe the “light” that Abdul experiences in the Saki Naka slum? (RI. 11-12.3)
22. What twist happens just as the Husains start to feel optimistic about their case? Is justice done for the Husains in the end? (RI. 11-12.3)
23. Describe the Indian myth about their country’s rise in world prominence. Do you agree? (RI. 11-12.3)
24. Abdul registers “what no calendar ever showed” (p. 218) at the Haji Ali mosque. Explain why this upsets him. (RI. 11-12.3)
25. Abdul thinks that, inside, he is made of the same materials as other people around him, including the corrupt officials. Still, he wants to be better than those people. What metaphor does he use for being better than what you are made of? (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.4)
26. In Chapter 16, does the Marathi poem sum up Asha’s life? Why or why not? (RI. 11-12.3)
27. Why do overcitizens buy shacks in the slums? (RI. 11-12.3)
28. What does Asha do for a hotel supplier? What is the outcome? Compare Asha’s undoing with that of Zehrunisa. (RI. 11-12.3)
29. Why does Bhimrao Gaikwad, an official running an education reform program, choose Asha as part of his fraud scheme? Read the following article from Express India (July 6, 2008) on the initiative to find out more about the public version of the program at http://tiny.cc/jqrkgw. (RI. 11-12.3, RI. 11-12.7)
30. Who is Asha’s new secretary? What do you predict for the future of this new secretary? (RI. 11-12.3)
31. Voting is important to Annawadians. Why? (RI. 11-12.3)
32. What does the black-and-white silk sari symbolize for Asha? (RI. 11-12.3)
33. At the beginning of Chapter 17, a prominent wall comes down and, within forty-eight hours, a lake is filled. What do Annawadi children guess will be built atop the old sewage lake? Why does the author tell you their guesses? (RI. 11-12.4, RI. 11-12.6)
34. Fatima’s daughter flies in the face of danger to procure an item from the sewage lake. Why does she do it? (RI. 11-12.3)
35. Explain the irony in Robert the Zebra Man’s animal abuse case. (RI. 11-12.6)
36. Discuss this statement from page 235: “Poor people didn’t unite, they competed
ferociously with one another for spoils.” Do you agree? Why or why not? (RI. 11-12.6)
37. In what ways do the Husains continue to suffer on account of Fatima’s actions? (RI.11-12.3)
38. What is Sunil’s new formula for not hating himself? (RI. 11-12.3)
 39. Predict Sunil’s fortunes after Annawadi’s demolition. RI. 11-12.1)
40. In the Author’s Note, Boo gives a personal account of her experience with the families of Annawadi as an outsider trying to pin down facts in hotly contested situations. She also discusses the dilemmas of trying to understand and convey to readers the deepest views of people who weren’t used to speaking about their lives. Did she succeed or fail in her efforts, in your view?
41. As a reporter, Boo also tries to avoid personal interference with the events as they unfold. However, as Annawadian interactions become snared by overcity authorities— from government officials to charity workers—Boo documents egregious violations of human rights and the law. What ethical dilemmas might arise from this choice? Discuss any resulting conflicts the reader might have upon completing the book. (RI.11-12.6)
Personal Essay
1. Watch the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire (adapted from the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup) and compare the fictional character Jamal Malik with Abdul Husain, the real young man in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Jamal’s memories give him answers that help make him a millionaire. How do Abdul’s memories change him? In what other ways are the arcs of their stories different? What qualities do Jamal and Abdul share? (RI. 11-12.1, RI.11-12.7)
2. Asha asks at the end of the book, as she prepares to engage in educational corruption, “How is it my wrong if the big people say it is right?” Does she have a point? The book shows how difficult it is to act ethically in an unethical world. But is it inevitable that, as Abdul says, an idealistic young person will become “dirty water like everyone else”? Do you ever feel yourself struggling to do good when circumstances are pushing you in the opposite direction? (RI.11-12.2)
3. The lives of ordinary woman are an important part of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Do women like Zehrunisa and Asha have more freedom in an urban slum than they would have had in the villages where they were born? What is Meena, a Dalit, spared by living in the city? What freedoms do Meena, Asha, and Zehrunisa still lack, in your view? Compare the experiences of the Annawadi women and girls to the experiences of their American counterparts. (RI.11-12.2)
4. Zehrunisa remembers a time when every slumdweller was roughly equal in his or her misery, and competition between neighbors didn’t get so out of hand. Abdul doesn’t know whether or not to believe her account of a gentler past. Do you believe it? Might increased hopes for a better life have a dark as well as a bright side? How does intense desire affect your own life, whether it’s hope for a relationship or inclusion in a peer group at school or an acceptance letter to a college? (RI.11-12.3)
5. Toward the end of her college career, Manju is required to read Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Read the play and consider any links between the lives of Annawadians and those in the Mumbai overcity and the play’s major theme. (RI. 11-12.7)
6. After reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, who do you feel most hopeful for, and why? Whose future do you worry about most? Develop a position on the success or failure the next generation of slumdwellers face based on the experiences of the Annawadians. Support this position using examples from the book. (RI. 11-12.1, RI. 11-12.2)
7. On page 107, Boo states Abdul’s view, that “The Indian criminal justice system was a market like garbage.” Support or refute this commentary based on examples from the book and other reputable sources. (RI. 11-12.2, RI. 11-12.7)
8. In a city teeming with people, the theme of aloneness reverberates. Discuss using examples from the book. (RI. 11-12.6)
9. On page 235, Boo writes, “What is unfolding in Mumbai was also unfolding in Nairobi, Rio, Washington, and New York.” Research inequality and human rights violations in these cities. Support or refute Boo’s statement using the results of your research. An excellent read is Katherine Boo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Invisible Lives/D.C.’s Troubled System for the Retarded” (The Washington Post, 1999). You can find it online at http://www.pulitzer.org/works/2000PublicService. (RI. 11-12.7)
10. Waste is symbolic on a number of levels in this book. Industrial waste’s value ebbs and flows based on the global economy. Passersby call Abdul “garbage,” not garbage trader, and Sunil says he “feels like an insult,” doing scavenging work. According to Boo’s definition, the slum dwellers understand that in a prospering city they are “embarrassments confined to small spaces, and their deaths would not matter at all” (p. 234). Critique the waste theme that envelopes this book. (RI. 11-12.2, RI. 11-12.6)
11. In 1993, while reporting on famine in southern Sudan, photojournalist Kevin Carter captured a haunting image he entitled Vulture Stalking a Child. View this photograph and consider/discuss parallels to ongoing destitution in Africa and India in light of Boo’s narrative. (RI. 11-12.7)
12. In the Author’s Note, Katherine Boo emphasizes the volatility of an age in which capital moves quickly around the planet. Had the author followed the families of Annawadi for only a few weeks or months, would you have come away with a different understanding of their lives? How does uncertainty about their homes and incomes change how Annawadians view their neighbors? How does economic uncertainty affect family and community relationships where you live? (RI.11-12.2, RI. 11-12.6)
Note: Only the standards referenced in this guide are listed below. For a complete list, go to http://www.corestandards.org/thestandards.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RI. 910.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
Craft and Structure
RL. 1112.6. Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).
Key Ideas and Details
RI. 11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RI. 11-12.2. Identify two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI. 11-12.3. Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific characters, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
Craft and Structure
RI. 11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings. Analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in “Federalist No. 10”).
RI. 11-12.5. Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
RI. 11-12.6. Determine an author’s point of view in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RI. 11-12.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Key Ideas and Details
RH. 11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
RH. 11-12.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among key details and ideas.
RH. 11-12.3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where in the text matters are left uncertain.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
RH. 11-12.8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Addison, Corban, A Walk Across the Sun
Beah, Ishmaiel, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Dau, John Bul, God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan
Dickens, Charles, his works on the 200th anniversary of his birth
Kidder, Tracy, Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness
Kotlowitz, Alex, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America
LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
Mehta, Suketu, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
Nazario, Sonia, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother
Sinclair, Upton, The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition
Wilkerson, Isabel, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Berenschot, Ward, Riot Politics
Brass, Paul R., The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India
GhassemFachandi, Parvis, Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and AntiMuslim Violence in India
Judith Turner is a longtime educator at Terrace Community Middle School in Tampa, Florida. She has held Subject Area Leader positions in language arts and social studies. She has also served the school as an assistant principal. Ms. Turner received her B.A. in Literature from the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay and her M.A. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of South Florida—Tampa. Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide

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