Katie Todd Katherine Boo tells the gripping story of several families of Annawadi, a slum in the booming city of Mumbai, India. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a journalistic account of life in a typical Mumbai slum from the author’s experiences living there for three years. There are several overlying themes throughout the book including greed, the role of religion, family life, poverty, hope, and the corruptness of the Indian government. Some of the main characters in the book are Asha, who becomes the slumlord of Annawadi at the end of the book, Sunil, the poor scavenger without a family, the Husain family who owned and prospered from a store for buying scrap metal and other garbage, Manju the college student and daughter of Asha, and Fatima the “one leg” who stirs up all kinds of troubles. These characters are tied together by daily life and help portray each theme.
Asha definitely shows the greed aspect because she will stop at nothing to rise to the top and gain power. I was really shocked by how much the people of the story betrayed each other. It seemed as though the only people who mattered to each character were family and some of the characters even treated their families like garbage. Asha was consistently caught cheating on her husband and putting much pressure on Manju to succeed in life with a college degree. Asha becomes obsessed with power until she gets what she wanted.
The Husains demonstrate how important family is. They get into a small conflict with Fatima which leads to her setting herself on fire and dying to get revenge for a petty matter. She then tells the police that the Husains’ set her on fire. Whether or not the police know that it is a lie or not doesn’t matter. The police are corrupt with power. They charge the father, Abdul the son and main source of income and his sister with the murder. The police refuse to drop the charges unless the family pays them a very hefty bribe, which they cannot afford. This demonstrates the corruptness of the system. Abdul, his father and his sister all end up in jail at the expense of their business while their mother works tirelessly to free them as they await their court date. Against all odds the family ends up getting off free in court, even with the speedy trial in which the judges seemed to pay no attention. The role of religion is also important to the Husain family because they are Muslims in a predominately Hindu area, and for this they are discriminated against. This is a huge theme throughout the entire book. There is a great sense of inequality between religions as well as classes.
Sunil demonstrates how important class is in this area of the world. He also shows how great the poverty of this area can be. His parents died when he was young so he has scavenged for years to keep alive. This left him being very small for his age and malnourished. Everyone basically treated him like trash. He had great hope that he would one day be like the people who went to the airport that he scavenged and lived next to. He usually slept outside. He saw others who slept merely on piles of garbage. Often he would get beat up and stolen from because he was so small. He witnessed many people around him be killed, die from illnesses or suicide, which was common there.
Manju also had hope. She wanted to graduate college and become a teacher. This was very hard for someone of her status to do however. She was one of few literate people, and she