Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo is not, in fact, a novel; it is a nonfiction work. Therefore, the people depicted in Boo's writing are not "characters," per se—they're real people.
The main people in Behind the Beautiful Forevers are Sunil, Abdul, Fatima, Asha and Manju.
Sunil is a teenage orphan whose growth is stunted. He regularly goes to and from the slum, ever since he was kicked out of the orphanage at the age of eleven. He takes care of his younger sister, Sunita, and spends most of his time looking for food and scavenging in the slum while trying to avoid getting involved with the bad crowds. He sells his trash to Abdul.
Abdul Husain is also a teenager and also a scavenger and trash picker. He has started a trash picking business by buying and reselling trash from other pickers. He looks through the garbage to take care of his entire family, because his father, Karam, is ill and therefore unable to provide for them. Even Abdul's mother is unsure of how old he is. Abdul is realistic and knows his life will never amount to great success, and his business and life are set back when he is falsely accused of killing Fatima.
Fatima is nicknamed "One Leg" because of a defect at birth that caused her to grow up with only one leg. She lives near Abdul's family and is insecure, so she seeks attention and validation by sleeping with multiple men and wearing a lot of makeup. She sets her house on fire toward the start of the story after arguing with Abdul's mother, Zehrunisa, and blames Abdul for the fire. She ends up dying in the fire, but the consequences of her action and accusation live on and affect Abdul's family for the rest of the book.
Asha Waghekar is an independent and cutthroat woman who is the slumlord of Annawadi. Unlike most Indian women, she handles her family and the slum on her own and without any influence from her husband. She has goals for her children to become successful and will do anything to achieve those goals. She tricks others into thinking they need her help in order to make them pay her, and she has slept with men of higher status to make her way up.
Manju Waghekar is Asha's daughter. She is kind and caring and has goals to help educate the children of the slum, but she is forced to listen to her manipulative mother and knows that she has no choice but to be obedient. She attends college and wishes to become a teacher. Before Asha became a slumlord, she allowed Manju to teach at a makeshift school at the slum; she revoked that privilege after being named slumlord. Asha's harshness limits Manju in her goals but also teaches her how to be a tough woman while still caring for others' feelings.
There are several others mentioned who live in the slum; however, the book focuses on the relationships and happenings between all the people I have just described.