Fall 2015

Behind the Beautiful Forevers book cover

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

Katherine Boo

Reading Katherine Boo’s National Book Award winning Behind the Beautiful Forevers leaves one’s mind and heart shaken and changed. Her thick and intense description of people striving to survive a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport in India reads like a gripping novel that is all too real in its tale of poverty and depredation, of human frailty and strength. On every page you’ll find the makings of a tragedy but also glimmers of possibilities for surviving tragedy. And on every page you’ll learn from Boo’s unsentimental empathy and insight how to think with respect about the hard and complex condition of life under terrible stress. You’ll leave the book equipped with her deep insights into how people survive alongside one another in an era and place of tumultuous change. And you’ll leave amazed at the writer’s commitment to getting the story right by living within it and rendering it in pitch perfect prose.

—ALAN TANSMAN, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, member of the 2016 On the Same Page faculty selection committee

Here are some representative quotations from student reviewers:

“The lyricism of Boo’s writing makes the stories of the residents of Annawadi ‘come alive’ in a way usually only seen with fiction. Without being polemical, it explores difficult topics and delivers a gripping appeal to the reader’s conscience. It’s impossible to ignore the empathy these stories provoke. It’s equally impossible to ignore our own complicity in the inequality that leaves some members of humanity behind even as the privileged soar to greater heights in our globalizing world.” (Adora Zvitak)

“The top strengths of this book were giving an in-depth insight to life in a Mumbai undercity without pulling any punches or sugarcoating anything. In addition, another top strength was how it changed point of view and give the different perspectives.” (Ivette Flores)

“The fact that it highlights the moral ambiguities and complications. It’s complex and heady and shows that not every issue is one sided.” (Brian Mason)

“It was great. Very interesting story lines that flesh out a history and a person, not just a face of poverty.” (Zelia Ziegler Hunt)

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers excels in most, if not all, aspects of literature. In a beautiful poetic writing style, Katherine Boo manages to transport the reader into a world that is unknown to many of us first-world citizens, teaching about slum life while still connecting the reader to her characters’ lives through emotion and drama. The amount of detail that she packs into this book is stunning; almost every sentence seems to include the results of on-site research.” (Naomi Primero)

“The writing is absolutely wonderful. The author’s descriptions of characters and scenes paint very vivid images in my mind while I read. The setting of the book is rich and the characters are unique and fascinating.” (Danielle Kenwood)

Katherine Boo

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. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is her first book.

Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo

News and Resources

Katherine Boo to talk on global inequality 
By Anne Brice, Berkeley News| September 22, 2015

Interview: Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers
BY MANA ANVAR, Daily Cal Staff | Last updated September 25, 2015

Panel featuring Katherine Boo outlines strategies for anti-poverty initiatives
BY EMMA SOLDON, Daily Cal Staff | Last updated September 28, 2015

 Another music for poverty alleviation
By Clare Talwalker, lecturer, International and Area Studies, Berkeley Blog | September 29, 2015

UC Berkeley Library Exhibit: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” at Moffitt Library
A new exhibit in Moffitt Library showcases the variety of library collections pertaining to the On the Same Page theme. 


Poster for Katherine Boo keynote

The Hidden Human Cost of Global Inequality: An Ethical and Economical Inquiry from the Mumbai Slums
Thursday, September 24, 2015
7:00 p.m.
Sanctuary, First Congregational Church of Berkeley

Free and open to all. Reception following event. Co-sponsored by the Institute for South Asia Studies.

Poster for Representations of Poverty event

Representations of Poverty
Thursday, October 1, 2015
3:30 p.m.
Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall

This event is free and open to everyone on a first-come, first-seated basis. It will be followed by an informal reception where attendees can mingle with the panelists and one another.

Poster for Life in the Slum World event

Life in the Slum World: Poverty in the Mega Cities of the Global South
Friday, October 30, 2015
2:00 p.m.
Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall

This event is free and open to everyone on a first-come, first-seated basis. It will be followed by an informal reception where attendees can mingle with the panelists and one another.

Poster for Beyond the Beautiful Forevers event

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: What Works for Tackling Poverty?
Friday, September 25, 2015
1:00-2:30 p.m.
310 Sutardja Dai Hall, Banatao Auditorium

Introduction by Tamara Straus (Blum Center) and moderated by Deirdre English (Graduate School of Journalism).

This is an RSVP only event sponsored by the Graduate School of Journalism, the Blum Center for Developing Economies,  and The Art of Writing Program. Space is limited.

Take Action

Cal students are problem solvers and world changers. It’s entirely possible that many of you who read Katherine Boo’s unforgettable work will be motivated to tackle one of the many social or political or environmental ills that she identifies. This page contains some options for students who are inspired to take action.

The Public Service Center connects students with meaningful service opportunities and purposeful leadership experiences. We offer many ways to take action in the community through our programs. If you’re inspired to get involved, consider joining an Alternative Breaks trip, participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), pursuing a Challenging Poverty summer internship, or interning during the academic year with local government and community organizations.
Several of our local community partner organizations focus on poverty and economic issues and are always looking for volunteers, including Berkeley Food and Housing ProjectWomen’s Economic Agenda Project, and Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency
There are also several student organizations that focus on issues of health and poverty locally and globally. Check out Suitcase ClinicCal Habitat for HumanityEngineering World Health, and Global Health Brigades as a starting point.

The Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize supports intellectual and creative pursuits that heighten awareness of issues of social consciousness and contribute to the public good. The award gives students the opportunity to extend and reflect upon their undergraduate work at Berkeley by undertaking a service, creative, or community-based research project in the year following graduation. Winning projects are creative in the broadest sense, explore themes of significant interest to holders of the Prize, and strive to further understanding of what constitutes humane and effective participation in our worldwide community. For more information and to read about past projects, please see the website at http://stronach.berkeley.edu/

The Global Poverty & Practice Minor is one of the largest minors on the UC Berkeley campus. It trains students to critically and historically engage with complex issues of poverty and inequality, equipping them with methodologies and skills of engagement, and encouraging the reflexivity necessary for meaningful practice. Central to the minor is a fieldwork opportunity (minimally six weeks) in which students connect theories and practices of poverty action through partnering with nongovernmental or community organizations, government agencies, or other poverty or development programs in California and around the world. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to undertake the minor and to investigate the ways in which it can supplement their major field of study. The Blum Center offers funding support for students’ practice experiences through a competitive fellowship.

Big Ideas@Berkeley is an annual competition to support student innovation on pressing social issues. First years are welcome and encouraged to get involved. Info events will happen throughout Sept and Oct leading up to the preproposal deadline in mid-November.


Faculty Planning Committee
Jennifer Bussell, Political Science and Public Policy
Vikram Chandra, English
Deirdre English, Journalism
Penny Edwards, South & Southeast Asian Studies
Michael Watts, Geography