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Narcopolis: A Novel Hardcover – April 12, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"An elegant tapestry of beautifully observed characters and their complex lives." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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; First Edition edition (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420330X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203305
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,212,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Narcopolis is 20 years too late and exasperatingly pretentious. It is repetitive beyond exasperation, has a formulaic Kamathipura (for those not in the know, it is Asia's second largest red light area in Mumbai) cast of pimps, prostitutes and peddlers and is written with a cold, cynical pen to get the firangs high on Mumbai exotica. Add to that a soulless narrative (coming from an accomplished poet, that's doubly sad) which leaves you without any empathy for a single character in the entire novel. The best part is the 6 page introduction written without a comma. It starts out promisingly and then, just goes steadily downhill. To me, it seemed a singularly dishonest piece of work which became a punishment of sorts as the pages rambled on. As a rule though, if I have nothing good to say, I refrain from commenting adversely about any piece of work, but this one made me mad enough to make an exception. The Booker nomination only means that somewhere a more deserving piece of work has cruelly got passed over. This is of course an intensely personal sentiment and I don't want anyone who has liked the book to take personal offense. After all, any reading of a book is an intensely personal affair and I would yet urge whoever was earlier interested in giving it a try to not be dissuaded by my sentiment. Maybe you will love it for reasons which have escaped me completely. For me, this book encapsulated just about everything that gives the literary fiction genre a bad name.
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