The New York Times - Notable Books of 2012


Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012)

Written by Katherine Boo

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. 

This book won the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction, 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, and also a finalist of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. (Copyright © Random House. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Penguin Random House Company.

Katherine Boo has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2003 and a contributor since 2001. Her writing focusses on issues of poverty, opportunity, social and economic policy, and education. Her article “The Marriage Cure,” on marriage seminars for the poor in Oklahoma City, received a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing in 2004. The article chronicled state-sponsored efforts to teach poor people in an Oklahoma community about marriage in hopes that such classes would help their students avoid or escape poverty. Another of Boo's New Yorker articles, "After Welfare", won the 2002 Sidney Hillman Award, which honors articles that advance the cause of social justice.

Before joining The New Yorker, Boo was a writer and editor for the Washington Post from 1993 to 2003, where she was a member of the Outlook and Investigative staffs. She was also an editor and writer for the Washington City Paper and The Washington Monthly. In 2000, her series for the Post about group homes for mentally retarded people won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Pulitzer judges noted that her work "disclosed wretched neglect and abuse in the city’s group homes for the mentally retarded, which forced officials to acknowledge the conditions and begin reforms." In 2002, she was awarded a MacArthur fellowship, in recognition of her body of work on the disadvantaged.

In 2012, Boo published her first book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, a non-fiction account of life in the Annawadi slums of Mumbai, India. It won the 2012 National Book Award and a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India, the birthplace of her husband,Sunil Khilnani.


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