Author: Katherine Boo
Published: 2012 by Random House
Read: September 2013
Why it made it to the top of the pile: I have owned (and wanted to read) this one since it was released, and it moved to the top when it became my book group's September pick
Trivia Tidbit: Katherine Boo won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2000 for her work at The Washington Post disclosing wretched neglect and abuse in the city's group homes for the mentally retarded, which forced officials to acknowledge the conditions and begin reforms.
Awards: 2012 National Book Award (nonfiction), 2012 LA Times Book Prize (current interest), 2013 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award
Full Disclosure: Purchased
Three thousand people live in Annawadi, a slum on land owned by the Airports Authority of India. Inhabitants include Abdul Husain, a garbage picker (recycler) with a good eye and the main income earner for his large family. He wants a wife who won't mind how he smells and a home anywhere but Annawadi. Asha Waghekar is a teacher who wants to become the slumlord of Annawadi. "Let others thread the marigolds. Let others sort the trash. For the overcity people who wished to exploit Annawadi, and the undercity people who wished to survive it, she wanted to be the woman-to-see." Her daughter, Manju, wants to be Annawadi's first female college graduate. Manju's friend Meena wants freedom instead of an arranged marriage and Sunil Sharma, an undersized twelve-year-old scavenger, wants to earn enough so he can eat more and so he will grow. The stories of these and other slum dwellers are woven together by Boo, and the tension is heightened when the Husain's neighbour, Fatima pours kerosene on herself and sets herself on fire, blaming Abdul, his sister and father. They are taken into custody and held by corrupt police officers whose price increases each day. Annawadi is full of corruption, determination and desperation, and Boo captures this beautifully.
This is an amazing book about lives so far removed from my own, beautifully written in an objective style. The stories and the determination of the inhabitants of Annawadi are what make Behind the Beautiful Forevers so compelling, and Boo deserves all the accolades she has received for this book.