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Finding 'Life, Death And Hope' In A Mumbai Slum

Feb 8, 2012 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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Katherine Boo is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo spent more than three years in Mumbai's Annawadi slum to do research for her new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Residents of the slum — which is located next to the Mumbai airport and in the shadow of several luxury hotels — live in devastating poverty.

Some inhabitants lack any shelter and sleep outside. Rats commonly bite sleeping children, and barely a handful of the 3,000 residents have the security of full-time employment. Over the course of her time in Annawadi, Boo learned about the residents' social distinctions, their struggles to escape poverty, and conflicts that sometimes threw them into the clutches of corrupt government officials. Her book reads like a novel, but the characters are real.

"I wasn't just interviewing people," Boo tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "I was going exactly where they went," whether it was teaching kindergarten or stealing scrap metal at the airport or sorting garbage. I would just sit and listen and talk intermittently as they did their work."

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