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Narcopolis: A Novel Hardcover – April 12, 2012
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"An elegant tapestry of beautifully observed characters and their complex lives." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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Set in the infamous opium dens of Shuklaji Street in Bombay, it is a story of addiction with the city of Bombay as the protagonist Supporting characters include Dom - the foreign returned junkie, Rashid - addict and owner of an opium den, Dimple/Zeenat - addict, eunuch prostitute who works at Rashid's, Bengali - addict and employee at Rashid's who has an opinion on everything from religion to politics to science, Mr. Lee - the Chinese addict and owner of another opium den, and Rumi - another addict (you get it - everyone is an addict). Through these characters Jeet has drawn a naked portrait of Bombay - ugly and nasty, yet so true. There isn't any well-defined plot - just an amalgamation of various stories of related characters connected by the drug, the den and the city. Jeet is also a poet and the influence is clearly visible here. This influence has made his writing unique, one of the strongest points of this novel.
Narcopolis is the debut novel by Jeet Thayil. It was nominated by the 2012 Man Booker Prize. In his own words, Narcopolis is about Bombay of the 70′s and 80′s - the city of intoxication, where the substances on offer were drugs and alcohol, of course, but also god, glamour, power, money and sex. The book draws from his own experience as an addict.
PS: The novel is laden with foul language, violence and sexual content. Not suitable for underage readers, or for readers who are easily offended.
by Jeet Thayil
Narcopolis joins the array of novels bold to real the life below the surface of the beautiful thriving old city, Bombay. It deals with drugs and addiction, sex and love, violence and perversion, god and death. Not the type of raw book I would chose to read ten years ago. I have grown up.
A varied cast populates the unfurling opium smoke - a murderer, businessmen, pimps, prostitutes, thugs, poets, painters, all drowning in degradation, lust and crime. We are drawn into a languorous world of shocking low life in and around Rashid's opium house on Shuklaji Street sometime in the 1970s, place of alleyways, and villages and decrepit buildings. We meet Dimple, the eunuch who prepares the pipes for the regular clients, the preparation an art like a sacred tea ceremony. The eunuch shows up as a beautiful lady who enjoys reading, goes to the cinema to watch lengthy Bollywood movies and listens to stories Mr Lee relates. Mr Lee, a Chinese refugee, a former soldier who fled communist China brings us a glimpse into the Mao era. Gritty Rashid, owner of the den, protects his family, especially his young son from exposure to low life of drugs and alcohol and prostitution.
The drifting characters give the novel a historical perspective as it moves in a haze with the arrival of hippies and an international groups seeking cheap solace. Indian politics and religious uprisings and violence are touched upon.
The tale moves to the present. After an absence the narrator returns to find a very different Bombay (Mumbai) in 2004. He comes seeking his friend Rashid and others he knew. The old place has disappeared giving way to proper roads and tall steel and glass buildings. He manages to contact his friend now old and sad and disillusioned and under the control of his educated son. His son a fervent Muslim with flexible morals, sells cocaine to the infidels, associates with women, and enjoys porn magazines. If necessary he might consider becoming a suicide bomber.
I found the novel stark, tragic and beautiful except when the focus shifted to China and Mao. I found this section trailing into distraction.
The author, Jeet Thayil, a poet, had at one time succumbed to addiction.
Man Booker prize short list
Jeet Thayil Narcoplis
Hilary Mantel Bringing Up the Bodies
Tan Twan Eng (one of my favourite writers) The Garden of Evening Mists
Deborah Levy Swimming Home
Will Self Umbrella
Alison Moore The Lighthouse
Thayil's novel focuses on the clients and workers of a Mumbai opium den circa 1980-something. Each character seems to take a turn being the author's center of attention. It's an interesting, if familiar, device that kept me turning the pages, but I thought some of the stories felt a little underdeveloped. Attempts on Thayil's part to tie it all together in the end perhaps fall a little short, but while Narcopolis may not be a great novel, I'd say that this a very entertaining collection of intertwining short stories with some unexpected tangents. Despite the dark subject matter, I find myself appreciating again how fascinating and unique a country India is.