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Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Cover of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity
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

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times
  • The Washington Post
  • O: The Oprah Magazine
  • USA Today
  • New York
  • The Miami Herald
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Newsday

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    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

    NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    "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

    From the Hardcover edition.
  • 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

    NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    The New York Times
  • The Washington Post
  • O: The Oprah Magazine
  • USA Today
  • New York
  • The Miami Herald
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Newsday

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    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

    NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

    "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

    From the Hardcover edition.
  • Available formats-
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    Levels-
    • ATOS:
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    • Reading Level:
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    Awards-
    Excerpts-
    • Chapter One

      Annawadi

      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...

    About the Author-
    • 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.

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      Random House Publishing Group
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