Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity

Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity

Hardcover | February 7, 2012

byKatherine Boo

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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
 
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

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Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity

Hardcover | February 7, 2012
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From the Publisher

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 enterprisi...

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.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9.52 × 6.54 × 1.1 inPublished:February 7, 2012Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400067553

ISBN - 13:9781400067558

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Reviews

Rated out of 5 by from Outstanding Book...I am an avid reader and I would list this as one of my all time favourites. I loved that it was a true story, and it took this author years to research and live in the horrid conditions that these people survived. A deserving book of all the many awards it has gathered. A MUST READ.
Date published: 2013-05-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Terrible! This book dragged on forever. A book of 230 pages seemed more like 1000 pages. I would not recommend this book to anyone. I decided to buy this book because it was on the Indigo recommends list.
Date published: 2013-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Painful and Difficult Read Story Description: Random House Publishing Group|February 7, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4000-6755-8 From the Pulitzer Prize-winner, Katherine Book, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells 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 brilliantly written, 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, see “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Aha, 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 – Annawadi’s “most everything girl” – will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians like, Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.” 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. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget. My Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a work of nonfiction that is hard to believe. Realizing that the people in this story are real, the incidents that took place are real, and the fact that such a horrible slum as this even exists in Mumbai is hard to swallow. What a sad and depressing way to be forced to live. I was utterly astonished and truly affected upon the realization that entire families live, literally, in ‘cardboard’ huts. There is no real protection from the elements or the rats that chew on the children’s faces as they sleep. As a mother, it would pain me deeply to be forced to raise my children under such dire circumstances. When the storms come, the huts are flooded with raw sewage and the smell is overpowering. Sickness is prevalent and the medical care is atrocious as the hospitals are filthy dirty. The condition and health of the women and girls was especially distressing to me. These poor souls live in a very harsh and unforgiving environment and one of the poorest of the poor. There is no escape for these people, no upward mobility, and no way to advance to get themselves out of living in this horrible tragic life. The extreme level of poverty is truly sickening and I’ve been so affected by this story that it has propelled me into looking at a donation of some sort to an organization that might be able to help these people. Katherine Boo has written a remarkable, thoroughly researched, engaging, insightful, educational, and informative ethnography of slum life on the outskirts of Mumbai in Annwadi. Boo’s ability to capture the devastating toll this type of living has on its inhabitants is truly phenomenal. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a must read in order to fully understand the degrading and indignant conditions in which some of our fellow human beings are forced to live. It has been quite a while where I have personally been so affected by a piece of writing. As I finish this review my shock factor is still at its height.
Date published: 2012-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unforgettable Due to grim situation that unfolds in the beginning of this book I was hesitant to continue reading. Not because I haven't read about difficult circumstances before, but because I find myself needing to be in a particular mindset before beginning a tough read. Pushing my reluctance aside, I read through a few more pages and was hooked. "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is the result of three years of tough, investigative reporting by Katherine Boo in India. As a journalist and emerging novelist, Boo weaves her experiences and knowledge of India into a heart-breaking tale of life in modern-day Mumbai. "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" shares the stories of the residents of Annawadi, a temporary settlement built in the shadow of the Mumbai Airport. The residents of Annawadi come from all over India in search of a better life. In Annawadi ingenuity is a familiar commodity. Abdul makes a living by sorting and selling garbage. Kalu is one of the many youths who supply Abdul with his "valuable" garbage. Asha, an ambitious women, searches for a better life through her controversial role in local politics. The poverty, inequality and hardship in this book are difficult to fathom, as well as the intense competition required in order to eke out a living. In contrast, the strength and resilience of the Annawadians is heartwarming and I was interested to learn how each of the residents lives' would unfold. Regardless of the bleakness of the story, "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is an eye-opening read that will keep you interested until the end.
Date published: 2012-07-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Non fiction writen like fiction. A must read. This is a story about people living in the Mumbai slums. (The ones you saw in Slumdog Millionaire) It reads like fiction with many figures and families involved in their everyday actions and struggles for survival. I had to keep looking to see if it was fiction or non fiction and I believe the author made this book come to life with her insights and writing. Not necessarily a happy story, of course, but it show us that we are all struggling for the same things (under different circumstances, thank goodness) Another good book club selection.
Date published: 2012-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunning! Having been to Mumbai twice and witnessed the extremes there, "Behind The Beautiful Forevers" led me to understand, to a degree, the reasons for the slums, why they are there and why they will remain. It is an honest and insightful look at lives within this inner city slum.
Date published: 2012-07-02

Extra Content

Read from the Book

1.AnnawadiLET 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."

Bookclub Guide

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?