Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

  • 28-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 17 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in Creative Writing
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Behind the Beautiful Forevers Prologue-Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Prologue Summary: Between Roses

The prologue places the reader firmly in the middle of the action – on July 17, 2008 in a slum near the airport in Mumbai, India’s largest city. Abdul Husain, a 16-year-old garbage sorter, is hiding from the police. He and his father are accused of burning the one-legged woman, their neighbor.

As Abdul hides in his 120-square-foot garbage shed, the reader gets an overview of Annawadi, the slum where “three thousand people had packed into, or on top of, 335 huts” (xi). Animals such as goats, pigs, and water buffalo run wild; the scent of open sewage is in the air. For years, the One Leg (as she is referred to in Annawadi) and her family were separated from the eleven Husains, one of the few Muslim families in the slum, by only a sheet. As the Husains’ circumstances improved, this sheet eventually became a stack of bricks.

Abdul, the oldest Husain boy, has elevated his family’s circumstances by becoming a trader – selling garbage recycled from the wealthy areas surrounding the airport. His father, Karam, suffers from tuberculosis and is not able to work. His mother, Zehrunisa, is an overbearing presence, often helping Abdul negotiate with traders. Some of the younger children are in school, but it is Abdul who supports the family – which makes it all the more serious that Abdul has been named as responsible for setting the One Leg on fire.

After his father is arrested, Abdul intends to escape from Annawadi during the night. Much to his shame, Abdul falls asleep. In the morning, Zehrunisa sends him to the police station to turn himself in – and to thereby protect his sick father.

Part One: Undercitizens

Chapter 1 Summary: Annawadi

It is January 2008. Abdul’s mother wakes him early in the morning, and he begins a long day of garbage sorting, while other Annawadians are standing in line for the public toilets and beginning their workdays – which involves serving businesses, scavenging, or begging from tourists along Airport Road.

Annawadi was established in 1991, when laborers repairing a runway at the airport decided to stay nearby…

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