Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Book - 2012
Average Rating:
Rate this:
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 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 fortune in the recyclable garbage of richer people. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a rural childhood, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to good times. But then, as the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781400067558
Characteristics: xxii, 256 p. ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jul 15, 2018

Amazing story of survival or not in a Mumbai ghetto

Mar 17, 2018

I read this entire book believing that it was a novel and found at the end that it was a piece of journalism. The author visited the slums of Annawadi daily for four years and writes of the lives of the people. Their lives do not progress. There is not character development in the novel sense of the word. They are just there, responding to the needs of life and the harsh environment left for them. They are by the airport of a prosperous corner of India, but theirs is a dumping ground on which they have erected informal shacks. They work hard and the system offers them opportunity through corruption and graft. It is an indictment on social inequity. Katherine Boo spoke at Pen and Podium. She does not pity or sympathize with the people. She just tries to know and understand them , respect the choices they make daily, bring some resources and relief.

Mar 26, 2017

I read this book immediately after a 3-week visit to Mumbai which included a private walking tour of the Dharavi slum which was a fascinating look at the ‘hustle’ work ethic and highly organized routines around garbage and recycle processing. It made me think of an open-air ‘factory’ spread over many acres. I was impressed. But Boo’s ethical probe in this book cracked it wide open to all the unseen facets of utter poverty within a flourishing India, the pros and cons of globalism and corruption, the dog-eat-dog nature of their communities. Her journalism reads like a compelling story, without judgement or moralizing, drawing us deeply into the lives of some of the players, and the loss of their talents and intelligence and control. Yes, it was depressing. But necessary.

Feb 24, 2017

This is the best examination I’ve come across about poor people and how they interact with each other; how they manage their poverty in order to survive; and how they relate with government officials when the opportunity arises. Having spent considerable time in reporting on needy communities in the United States, and winning a Pulitzer Prize for it, apparently, the author turned to the poorest on earth and produced a superb examination of their lives in a novelized form. She deservedly won a National Book Award for her effort.

The story, based on real people, apparently, follows the lives of garbage collectors, young and old, as they go about their neurotic and sometimes psychopathic existence on the edge of a growing modern airport. Every day represents a test of their ability to survive against all odds including crooked and corrupt government officials who exploit them without pity.

Over all, the reader learns that there are poor people, and there are poor people. They’re not all the same, and they don’t all respond to their deprivation in the same manner. And, perhaps, most of all, they can claw at each other, if they have to, in order to survive.

When I began reading this book I marveled at the author’s ability to peer so intimately at the lives of her characters, and wondered how she captured the details. I’ve read many other works about poor people, mostly rural folks in Latin American, but none that honed in so sharply. In the last pages the author explains briefly her use of sociological science methods which aided her in amassing the overwhelming details which she then sorted out in order to fashion a complicated novel—too complicated for me, forcing me to skim and then finally re-evaluate the work. My rethinking produced the conclusions offered in the 1st paragraph here. It’s a masterful piece of work, no doubt.

Jan 03, 2017

With her precise descriptions of relationships and the tragic lives of her characters, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers reads like expertly crafted fiction. Instead, Boo meticulously reports the lives of a family in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, focusing on Abdul, a boy who supports his family as a garbage trader, until he’s wrongfully arrested for murder. Boo spent three years researching her story, and it shows.
Total reading time: 4 hours
How to read it: When you want to escape family holidays with some well-told nonfiction

lindab1111 Nov 17, 2016

Mumbai India is the setting for this beautiful and heartbreaking story. It was striking how corruption completely infiltrated the entire culture in this impoverished setting. Even getting to see a doctor required a payment on the side. India's poorest citizens had to adapt to survive with few hopes for prosperity. This book's many honors are well deserved.

Nov 02, 2016

This is an extremely up-close and intimate look into slum life in Mumbai. There's no sugar-coating here, just the harsh realities of poverty in India. Boo's research is extensive and impressive--very well-written.

Oct 14, 2016

Wonderful book that reveals the culture, lives and ethics of the poorest people in Mumbai. The lives revealed are contrasted in brief flashes to the entitled world beyond. Fascinating look at life and struggles of the very poor. Interesting in its view that it does not encourage pity but instead admiration at the flexibility and ingenuity to survive within this world.

Sep 17, 2016

This was a challenging book to read. A few times I nearly gave up.
But I persisted and right at the end of the book when it explained how this book came to be written I really appreciated the story much more. Thank you for opening my eyes.

Sep 12, 2016

didn't finish it before it was due

View All Comments


Add a Quote

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"Maybe, we firmly concluded." (p. 252)

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"Water and ice were made of the same thing. He [Abdul] thought most people were made of the same thing, too. He himself was probably little different, constitutionally, from the cynical, corrupt people around him - the police officers and the special executive officer and the morgue doctor who fixed Kalu's death. If he had to sort all humanity by its material essence, he thought he would probably end up with a single gigantic pile. But here was the interesting thing. Ice was distinct from - and in his view, better than - what it was made of.

"He wanted to be better than what he was made of. In Mumbai's dirty water, he wanted to be ice. He wanted to have ideals. For self-interested reasons, one of the ideals he most wanted to have was a belief in the possibility of justice." (p. 218)

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"When I settle into a place, listening and watching, I don't try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments. I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives." (p. 251)

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"There being no way around the not-being-Indian business, I tried to compensate for my limitations the same way I do in unfamiliar American territory: by time spent, attention paid, documentation secured, accounts cross-checked." (p. 249)

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"Finally, a small triumph of information over corruption." (p. 219)

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"He [Sunil] was well suited to his work as a new-economy microsaboteur." (p. 194)

bibliotecarria Jan 26, 2016

"the full enjoy" (p. 49)


Add a Summary

May 10, 2017

An incredibly well researched and well told story of the lives of slum dwellers in Mumbai which captures their struggles, hopes, resilience and adaptability. Katherine Boo spent several years getting to know some of the residents of a slum near the Mumbai airport and presents a gripping story based primarily on the Muslim family of Abdul , a garbage sorter, who is falsely accused of a crime that has grave repercussions for his family. We see through the lives of these slum dwellers the impact of pervasive corruptness, globalization, religion, caste and gender. Quick paced and well told


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SMCL

To Top