2012 National Book Award Winner,

Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Random House

Katherine Boo, by Heleen Welvaart


In her prose as well as her purpose, Katherine Boo calls Dickens and Zola to mind—and yet her account of the teenaged Abul Hakim Husain and his kinetic web of contacts in Annawadi, his slum in the shadow of the Mumbai airport, is nonfiction. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an interview-based narrative in which the interviewer never appears, a murder mystery, an intricately-plotted reflection of everyday life, and a reminder that sometimes the writer’s most valuable organ is the ear.


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 will soon become its first female college graduate. 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.


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.


> www.behindthebeautifulforevers.com

> Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Katherine-Boo

AUDIO: The Craft of Writing: Katherine Boo, by Jennifer Ludden
All Things Considered
> www.npr.org

VIDEO: Katherine Boo on Charlie Rose, February 10, 2012
> www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12151

VIDEO: Journalist Katherine Boo talks about what her experience in Mumbai, India, has taught her about poverty in the United States. The Colbert Show, March 12, 2012.
> www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/410489/march-12-2012/katherine-boo


Photo credit: Heleen Welvaart