At the sentence level alone, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo’s unsettlingly gorgeous epic about life in a Mumbai slum, already distinguishes itself as a teaching resource. And these lines are just from the prologue, people!
“He had deep-set eyes and sunken cheeks, a body work-hunched and wiry—the type that claimed less than its fair share of space when threading through people-choked slumlanes.”
“A modest, missable presence was a useful thing in Annawadi, the sumpy plug of slum in which he lived.”
“More cranes for making more buildings, the tallest of which interfered with the landing of more and more planes: It was a smogged-out, prosperity-driven obstacle course up there in the over-city, from which wads of possibility had tumbled down to the slums.”
“Each evening, they returned down the slum road with gunny sacks of garbage on their backs, like a procession of broken-toothed, profit-minded Santas.”
“Abdul’s mother was the haggler in the family, raining vibrant abuse upon scavengers who asked too much for their trash.”
“Abdul didn’t dare voice the great flaw of his father, Karam Husain: too sick to sort much garbage, not sick enough to stay off his wife.”
“To Abdul’s right, disconcertingly, came quiet snores: a laconic cousin newly arrived from a rural village, who probably assumed that women burned in the city every day.”
“Some days the lips were orange, other days purple-red, as if she’d climbed the jamun-fruit tree by the Hotel Leela and mouthed it clean.”
“But most of them would gladly blow their noses in your last piece of bread.”
“Zahrunisa Husain was a tear-factory even on good days; it was one of her chief ways of starting conversations.”
Previous Lines to Love: Ben Hecht, from 1001 Afternoons in Chicago.