Behind The Beautiful Forevers Characters

Please summarize the main characters in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are 335 families represented in Katherine Boo's Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. These are some of the primary characters. 

Abdul Hussein is a lonely, quiet, and friendless teenager, one of nine children. He is quite an entrepreneur who finds “a fortune beyond counting" in all of the trash which is dumped in Annawadi, and he is quite good at sorting trash for a profit.  He refuses to beat up Fatima as his father requests; nevertheless, Fatima falsely accuses him of lighting her on fire. He spends time in a juvenile detention center and, once his sister and father are acquitted, he is essentially free, too.  

“In Mumbai’s dirty water, he wanted to be ice.”

Karam, Abdul’s father, is rather helpless but dreams of something more for his family and puts a down payment on a house in a Muslim village outside of Mumbai. His wife accuses him of being a dreamer, but he persists. He is accused, along with two of his children, of torching Fatima. He is acquitted.

Zehrunisia Hussein is a strong woman who only wants the best for her family and does what she must to make that happen as well as improve their lives however she can. She gets in a street brawl with the cantankerous Fatima but performs the burial rituals for her, despite Fatima’s false accusations against Zehrunisia’s family members.

Mirchi is Abdul’s younger brother and assistant, a bright ninth-grader. He is unable to maintain the business when Abdul is charged with murder.

Fatima is the Hussein’s neighbor; they are not enemies until the renovation project begins. She is a one-legged crippled woman whose name literally means “One Leg.” Fatima regularly abuses her children. Ostracized by her own family, Fatima has a reason to be angry at life. She sets herself on fire out of spite and makes false accusations of murder with her dying breath.

Asha is Rahul’s mother, a kindergarten teacher and political player who steals, sleeps, and threatens her devious way to a position of power. She is selfishly driven by her poverty and greed. She offers to take care of Zehrunisa’s “Fatima problem” (for a price, of course) and has the connections to do it  (Zehrunisia declines). Asha ultimately falls from power but recovers in the end and gives up politics.

Manju, Asha’s teenage daughter, is a college student who runs a free school at night for children who have to work during the day. She is considered to be Annawadi’s “most-everything girl.” While she is judgmental of her mother’s politics, dishonest dealings, and many affairs, she is the beneficiary of her mother’s efforts and the greatest hope for everyone here. She is smart but has none of her mother’s ruthless ambition.

Sunil is a diminutive boy who takes care of his sister Sinita. He brings trash to Abdul to sort and wants nothing more than to grow, which he has stopped doing due to malnutrition. He eventually becomes a thief, but with his money he is able to eat better and begins to grow again. He runs into trouble but ends up back in business with Abdul.

Meena is Manju’s brightest pupil but she is in an arranged engagement to someone she does not love; after she falls in love with another boy, she is miserable and commits suicide. Manju unsuccessfully tried to save her. 

These characters are representative of the people, both good and bad, who live in poverty-stricken Annawadi. 

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