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2013 All School Read: Student Assignment

A guide to Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

Vocabulary List for Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Prologue

mule-brained

eluding

flagged

spatchcock

bedlam

maidan

feral

splay

maimed

megaliths

extruding

gunny sacks

brittle

laconic

haggling

relish

burqa-clad

censured

Assignment for High School Students

Topics for Behind the Beautiful Forevers:

Life, Death and Hope from a Mumbai Undercity

MLA citation: Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers. New York: Random House, 2012. Print

Directions:  Write a 500-700 word, multi-paragraph essay on one of these topics.  First, label your answer clearly by including the topic.  Then begin your essay with an introduction that leads to a thesis statement.  Your body paragraphs should have discernible topics as well and should be well-organized with details and evidence from the book to support your points. 

Topics from MBA teachers:

1.  Compare and contrast Abdul’s mother, Zehrunisa, with Rahul’s and Manju’s mother, Asha Waghekar.  Among other things, consider their differing ethnicity, their ways of protecting and promoting their families, and the ways they individually cope with the deprivation and degradation of their lives.

2.  Analyze the complicated relationship between Asha and her daughter Manju.  Look particularly at their differing motivations and values, along with explaining the way Asha takes advantage of her wonderful daughter’s talents.  Give examples that support each character’s strengths and weaknesses.

3.  Write a character analysis of Abdul Husain.  Explain his motivations, his dreams, his successes, his fears, the way he copes with the futility of his world, and the importance of the influence of The Master who teaches classes to the boys at Dongri Prison.   

4.  Write an essay that depicts the corrupt practices and policies of the local levels of Indian government, down to the local slumlords and the police.  Consider the way the author uses the death of Fatima, the subsequent arrests of Abdul, Kehkashan, and Karam (their father), and the machinations of Zehrunisa and Asha through kickbacks and payoffs to show the hopeless injustice of the court system that governs the undercity of Mumbai.

5.  Pretend you are Abdul or Manju and write a 700-word first-person chapter about a day in your life.  Try to build into this fictional chapter your motivations, hopes, fears, anxieties, or any other emotion that demonstrates you’ve read the book and have thought deeply about these characters.  Include any characters in the book or other ones you create on your own.

6. In her note, the author refers to the “conditions that had sabotaged their [slum-dwellers’] innate capacity for moral action.” What is the significance of Abdul’s time in juvenile detention and the “Master of Dongri” for understanding moral character? (Consider Abdul’s metaphor of ice and water as a way of thinking about good versus bad character.)  Explain other examples of “moral action” in the book.

7. How does the author help us to understand the reasons that rural people migrate to the cities and, sometimes, to the slums? Chapter nine is particularly important in this respect. What developments in American history can be compared to this exodus?

8. Throughout the book, the level of violence (including suicide) is notable—violence within families, between rival groups, and even in the legal system. What common causes can you locate both for violence against others and violence against oneself?

 

Topics from Behind the Beautiful Forevers online discussion guide: 

http://www.behindthebeautifulforevers.com/discussion-guide/

9. Because Abdul works day and night with garbage—keeping his head down, trying to support his large family—some other city-dwellers think of him as garbage, too. How does Abdul react to how other people view him? How would you react? How do Abdul and his sort-of friend, Sunil, try to protect themselves and sustain self-esteem in the face of other people’s contempt?

10. The lives of ordinary women– their working lives, domestic lives, and inner lives–are an important part of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The author has noted elsewhere that she’d felt a shortage of such accounts in nonfiction about urban India. Do women like Zehrunisa and Asha have more freedom in an urban slum than they would have had in the villages where they were born? What is Meena, a Dalit, spared by living in the city? What freedoms do Meena, Asha, and Zehrunisa still lack, in your view?

11. Asha grew up in rural poverty, and the teenaged marriage arranged by her family was to a man who drank more than he worked. In Annawadi, she takes a series of calculated risks to give her daughter Manju a life far more hopeful than that of other young women such as Meena. What does Asha lose by her efforts to improve her daughter’s life chances? What does she gain? Were Asha’s choices understandable to you, in the end?

12. Asha grew up in rural poverty, and the teenaged marriage arranged by her family was to a man who drank more than he worked. In Annawadi, she takes a series of calculated risks to give her daughter Manju a life far more hopeful than that of other young women such as Meena. What does Asha lose by her efforts to improve her daughter’s life chances? What does she gain? In the end, were Asha’s choices understandable to you?