Behind the Beautiful Forevers


Katherine Boo

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Katherine Boo

Boo grew up in Washington D.C. and graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University. She honed her journalism skills working for Washington’s City Paper and the Washington Monthly. From 1993 to 2003, she wrote for the Washington Post as an editor and investigative journalist. In 2004, Boo officially joined the staff of The New Yorker after contributing articles for three years. Over the course of her career, Boo has won many awards for her work in areas of social justice and public service, including a Pulitzer, a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing, and the 2002 Sidney Hillman Award. Boo also won a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2002, funding Boo’s efforts to live and work in underprivileged and under-reported communities. Boo married Sunil Khilnani, a Professor of Politics at King’s College, London and a scholar of Indian history, and soon became consumed with reporting the stories in India that continue to go unnoticed as India’s quickly growing economy transforms the face of the country. Boo spent three years living in the Annawadi slum and later turned her observations there into the award-winning book Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Since 2008, Boo has split her time between India and America as she continues to write for The New Yorker about issues of inequality and economic opportunity in a globalizing world.
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Historical Context of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Boo’s reporting on the lives of residents of a Mumbai slum brings to light the conditions facing a large majority of urban citizens in India in the late 2000s. Though India’s economy has been growing rapidly since 2001, thanks to increased industrialization and global trade, many Indian citizens still live in poverty and lack adequate educational opportunities, housing situations, and food. In 2012, when Behind the Beautiful Forevers was published, India defined the poverty line as $14 per month in rural areas and $17 per month in urban areas. According to the India Planning Commission, 39% of Indians lived below the poverty line in the 2000s, while outside agencies judged the number of Indians living in poverty to be as high as 50%. Furthermore, poverty is exacerbated for communities in India that have been historically discriminated against, such as the lower-castes Dalits like Meena, or Muslims in majority Hindu areas, like the Husain family in Annawadi. Since 2008, India has worked to lift 140 million people out of poverty, but life is still precarious for those who reach a higher social class. In fact, India is still considered one of the most unequal countries in the world with the top 1% of the country holding 60% of the wealth. Though the Indian government is funding several efforts to relieve poverty, both in rural and urban environments, there is still much work to be done for Indians to have stable, permanent jobs that will establish lasting success for the country.

Other Books Related to Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Boo’s deep look into the underside of Mumbai shares aspects of Sukethu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb, both of which also examine the changing face of India through the stories of everyday people. Boo focuses on women’s issues in her work on this impoverished community, advocating for educating girls in a similar way to Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Boo also raises the subject of arranged marriages and their consequences, particularly for women, as shown in A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Boo’s combination of research and personal narrative is similar to William Dalrymble’s book about Delhi, City of Djinns, and her dedication to following the families of Annawadi for three years mirrors Alex Kotlowitz’s long-term project There Are No Children Here, which followed children growing up in a crime-ridden and neglected public housing complex in Chicago. Aravind Avinda’s novel The White Tiger, while fictional, also focuses on the situation of the poor in India and touches on many of the same themes of competition, corruption, and inequality.
Key Facts about Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • Full Title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
  • When Written: 2008-2011
  • Where Written: Mumbai, Washington D.C.
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: investigative non-fiction
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • Setting: Annawadi, a slum community in Mumbai, India.
  • Climax: The Husain family, falsely accused of forcing their next-door neighbor to set herself on fire, are exonerated and allowed to leave prison.
  • Antagonist: corruption, poverty, the Mumbai police
  • Point of View: third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Behind the Beautiful Forevers

She Fell Into It. While Boo was worried about the potential dangers of living in Annawadi before she started the project, she was convinced to take the risks after she fell and hurt herself badly in her apartment in Washington D.C. Realizing that safety was not guaranteed anywhere, Boo decided to follow her passion for reporting in underprivileged communities no matter the costs there might be.

Language Barrier. Boo was not fluent in Marathi or Hindi when she started reporting in Annawadi, meaning that she had to depend on the help of many translators as she gained the trust of the Annawadi residents and began to tell their stories. Some of those translators were Indian journalists, university students, educators, and activists.