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Narcopolis: A Novel Hardcover – April 12, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize
A Flavorwire Best Book of the Year
One of Financial Times' Best Books of 2012

"If you know and have enjoyed [John Rechy, Alexander Trocchi, William Burroughs], then Narcopolis belongs at your bedside. As it does, as well, even if you know none of them but want to read a jarring, revelatory, X-rated yet somehow miraculously lyrical depiction of some of the lowest things we do as human beings, even as we try to rise up again from lying prone, stoned, deluded, denuded of all dignity yet still hoping for a better world."
—Alan Cheuse, The Dallas Morning News

"Thayil is a poet, and it shows in the prose, which contains countless moments of great beauty. His debut is an unsettling portrait of a seething city, a beautifully-written meditation on addiction, sex, friendship, dreams, and murder. It's a simultaneously brutal and beautiful work, dreamlike without ever being sentimental or vague or soft-hearted. Narcopolis is a truly impressive achievement."
The Millions

"[Thayil's] brash, hallucinatory Narcopolis has mainlined him into the international narco-literati circle, one that counts Scotsman Irvine Welsh, Chilean Roberto Bolaño, and American smack daddy William Burroughs among its esteemed members... Will Thayil, like Rushdie, inspire a whole new school of Indian writing?"
Vanity Fair

" In ambition, Narcopolis is reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño; but it is Denis Johnson's Jesus's Son... that is its closer kin. Thankfully, Thayil creates something original and vital from those blueprints. One yearns for the next hit."
The Telegraph

"Thayil's precision and economy distill what could be a sprawling and uneven saga into an elegant tapestry of beautifully observed characters and their complex lives."
Publishers Weekly (starred)

"Narcopolis imports the rhythms and emphasis of Charles Bukowski and William S. Burroughs to chronicle the sick thrill of drugs, but uses the structural eye of a journalist to depict with scary clarity how heroin takes down bodies and cities simultaneously."
The Onion A.V. Club

"I wished that this book, like some long and delicious opium-induced daydream, would go on and on. The end, sadly, does eventually come... Narcopolis is a blistering debut that can indeed stand proudly on the shelf next to Burroughs and De Quincey. Thayil is quoted as saying that he lost almost 20 years of his life to addiction, but on this showing the experience did not go to waste. We can celebrate that he emerged intact and gave us this book."
The Guardian

"Beautifully written, inventive and clear-eyed, Narcopolis deserves to be read and acclaimed."

"Outstanding debut novel... The ingenuity of Thayil's novel lies in how he has squeezed this entire universe into an opium pipe. And when the narrative dissipates into smoke, it leaves a deceptively addictive odour, with memorable characters at the margins of society."
The Independent

"Devastating... As Dimple says to the narrator in a dream: 'You should listen. Even if you can't bear it, you should listen.' And that is precisely what this novel asks us to do: to listen to the most vulnerable people who usually don't have a voice."
The New Statesman

"The sense of place is intoxicatingly horrible, and the author's poetic style makes something iridescently lush and nightmarish out of the squalor of recent Bombay."
The Sunday Times

"Narcopolis will hypnotise you... This is a poetic book about vice and desperation, and a truly exceptional debut."

"As his well-drawn characters, from pimps to poets, fall deeper under the opium spell, losing their sense of self to their dependency, the author never takes his hand from the narrative tiller... Narcopolis represents a truly international work of fiction: influenced by and sitting comfortably alongside western works such as Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream, yet possessing a quintessentially Indian sensibility that suggests more than a simple crude shift of time or place."
Book Geeks

"A compelling, often exhilarating debut. Thayil deftly weaves the various narrative threads, and his overheated, hypertrophied prose invites comparison with the greatest of all narco-novels: Willian Burroughs' Naked Lunch."
The Financial Times

"Poet, musician, and ex-junkie Jeet Thayil's vibrant debut novel is a sprawling saga about the underbelly of 1970s Bombay, with shifting foci and wonderfully degenerate characters swirling about in the muck, looking for their fix—whatever that might be. Striking, compelling and strangely addicting itself, Thayil's prose will have you captivated until the very end."

"Completely fascinating and told with a feverish and furious necessity, Narcopolis cultivates for us a glorious world which is simultaneously fantastical yet highly realistic. Jeet Thayil has written a work we can place on our book shelves next to Roberto Bolaño, next to G.V. Desani and Hubert Selby."
—Alan Walker, author of Morvern Callar and The Stars in the Bright Sky

"Stories unfold and hang in the air. They slide into each other, until you're not quite sure how long you've been reading. Jeet Thayil's Bombay is a city dreaming troubled dreams, and Narcopolis will change the way you imagine it."
—Hari Kunzru, author of Transmission and The Impressionist

"Hypnotic and enthralling–Thayil throws us into his kaleidoscope along with his diamond-edged characters, then twists and turns relentlessly."
—Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva

"Jeet Thayil takes Mumbai out of Bollywood cliché and into an underworld that blends the best of Trainspotting with the wild comedy of Goya and the gorgeous yearnings of Keats. A guaranteed top-karat high!"
—Daljit Nagra, author of Look We Have Coming to Dover!

"Narcopolis is a magic carpet ride spanning half a century of drug use, devotion and delirium. Both unassuming and intoxicating, this book's beauty will seep through your synapses, and stay there, like passive-smoking the finest, smoothest psychotropic fumes." —Richard Milward, author of Apples and Ten Storey Love Song

About the Author

Jeet Thayil was born in 1959 in Kerala, India. He was educated in Hong Kong, New York, and Bombay, cities where his father worked as an editor and writer. His four poetry collections include These Errors Are Correct and English, and he is the editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. As a musician and songwriter, he is one half of the contemporary music project Sridhar/ Thayil. Narcopolis is his first novel. He lives in Delhi.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420330X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203305
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By asiana VINE VOICE on March 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Bombay,or Mumbai, as it is known today, is brought to life by Jeet Thayil in this engrossing novel of sex, drugs and love in the underbelly of this sprawling city.

The characters in this book include the amazing Dimple, who was born a boy but who was castrated at a young age and works as a prostitute in a brothel next to an opium den, where she prepares the pipes. Although she has no formal education she is able to read and is always looking for beauty although she doesn't find it in the streets of this huge metropolis. Among others who frequent the opium den are the Chinese refugee/businessman, Mr.Lee, who has his own tale of woe and Rumi, a working man who is addicted to violence. Opium gives way to heroin as the years go by but the cast of characters seeking relief from whatever ails them only increases in number.

Mr.Thayil, a poet, whose use of language is so vivid that the city and its inhabitants really come to life, also portrays, vividly, the violent riots between Muslims and Hindus which erupted in 70s, 80s and 90s and which hatred still exists today. I highly recommend this book and will attempt to read other of his books.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gary Severance VINE VOICE on April 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jeet Thayil's novel Narcopolis is the story of Bombay, the old city that changed its name and destroyed part of its history. It is told from the point of view of a man who travels to the city from New York in the 1970s. He is fascinated by the poor areas where criminals provide drugs and prostitution as an alternative way of life for a variety of Indian people. The common denominator of these people is psychological and physical pain. Sex and intoxication disconnect the neurons from the individuals' pain receptors. In this depiction of Bombay, many residents have found a life of the senses in rhythm with the life of the old city.

The underworld is accepting of characters who deviate radically from normal expectations. These marginalized souls include an opium den operator, a transgender opium pipe preparer, a violent day worker and family man who visits the den, an alcoholic artist who acts out the expectations of deviance by his admirers, a Chinese expatriate businessman mourning the loss of his culture, and other survivors determined to connect without pain to the immediate life of the subcontinent, the mysterious Eastern metropolis of Bombay.

Although the old Bombay and its people seem doomed to the squalor of small lives and little motivation to improve their lot, there is remarkable freedom for the adventurous in the life of the immediate senses and easy gratification of desires. There is plenty of opportunity for consideration of morality, religion, art, personal responsibility, reincarnation, violence, rebellion, and the soaring illusion of freedom induced by intoxication. It is all there in the ancient city for people with the courage to immerse themselves in its uplifting and destructive life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Case Quarter VINE VOICE on March 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
the narrator, dom ullis, begins by informing the reader his story is about bombay, told to him by the opium pipe. ullis is a bit of a faker (spell it either way), reliable, but with a penchant for exaggerating effects and describing his realms of bombay with language from lurid and sensationalized magazines. don't be taken in by him. his prologue, written to give the impression of someone deep in a opium state of mind, is a six page run on sentence. his sentence isn't the type of run on sentence of molly bloom's stream of consciousness. ullis's run away prologue is coherent and easy to read, of a series of sentences lacking periods and the following capital letters which, conventionally, begin sentences. after a few lines, the reader can catch on and follow ullis's initiatory style on his own terms, a style to which the narrator never returns.

and so with the story--really about dimple, the prostitute born male who underwent a painful sex change at the age of nine to work in a bordello. once ullis disappears early from the story and dimple becomes protagonist, the style changes and the reader is guided by her around the khana, the opium room, and introduced to the regulars of the room, rashid, the owner; bengali, who acts as a kind of manager, sharing his thoughts, one of them: would the fate of opheus had turned out differently had he chosen a more pleasant tune; mr lee, a competitor, a refugee from china, his interesting back story told in detail; and, of course, dimple, hijra, eunuch, prostitute and preparer of pipes in the khana.

this is a closed world, a world that cannot hide from time and progress. near the conclusion of the story, decades have passed and ullis returns to a changed bombay.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By not a natural on March 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Narcopolis is a first-rate literary achievement. The author's lucid and versatile prose style bespeaks mastery of language, and lends itself to finding the richness and value in the surreal, the mystical, the natural, the haunted, the stuff of vivid dreams and hallucinations, and occasionally collides with the world of the restless dead. Before all else, however, though its words are well-chosen, it's sentences well-wrought, and its paragraphs mesh neatly from one illuminating, sometimes beautiful, page to another, Narcopolis is about the brutally chaotic meaninglessness of life in Bombay, the enormous city now known as Mumbai.

If there is a character whose life typifies the poverty, chaos, and unthinkable suffering of Bombay, it is Dimple. Her real name is something else that she's long forgotten, having been given away by her mother when she was six or seven. While the name Dimple seems feminine enough, one suitably coupled with our use of the pronoun "her," this is misleading. Dimple, by whatever name, was born a boy, but after being given away or sold, who knows, when she reached age eight or nine her scrotum and penis were cut off, a sort of double castration suitable to an over-determined eunuch, someone who has been surgically designated to live out her days as a prostitute. If her customers are kind, they will apply lubricant before using her rectum as a vagina. She spends the rest of her working day preparing and serving pipes to those who frequent the opium den that shares a floor with her brothel.

In spare moments, Dimple teaches herself to read, just because she likes to, and she smokes opium, snorts cocaine, and eventually learns to appreciate heroin. In time, the dissolute life for which she was foredoomed takes its toll and her beauty fades.
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