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The Thing about Thugs Hardcover – July 24, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A complex, thoughtful novel...Khair takes two large, mainly invisible cultural narratives...and blends them in powerful and enlightening ways...A fascinating and emotionally moving novel for fans of literary fiction." -- Library Journal

"Authentic and deeply thought-provoking. Readers who enjoy Collins and Dickens will recognize their influence on Khair and revel in his creation." -- Booklist, STARRED

 

From the Inside Flap

A subversive, macabre novel of a young Indian man’s misadventures in Victorian London as the city is racked by a series of murders

In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to England, his villainously shaped skull there to be studied. Only Ali knows just how embroidered his story is, so when a killer begins depriving London’s underclass of their heads, suspicion naturally falls on the “thug.” With help from fellow immigrants led by a shrewd Punjabi woman, Ali journeys deep into a hostile city in an attempt to save himself and end the gruesome murders.

Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels a ghostly people call home, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins or Michael Chabon. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this sly Victorian role reversal marks the arrival of a compelling new Indian novelist to North America.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (July 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547731604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547731605
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #826,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By DanD VINE VOICE on May 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE THING ABOUT THUGS plays out in the grand style of storytelling we don't see much anymore. It's told via different mediums (literature-infused reflections, straight-up narrative, personal letters, news articles, etc.), but the story itself is pretty straightforward: Amir Ali, a Native Indian, finds himself in 1837 London. He got there by crafting a story of himself as a murderous thug. Ali's story is too juicy and enticing to be true, and it gets him in serious trouble when a series of vicious beheadings rocks the city.

THUGS is a dark-humored satire that contains everything that makes 19th century British literature so enticing: sex, murder, grave-robbing, phrenology, love, humor, and bits of racism (in this case, intentional). Tabish Khair has crafted an engaging piece of prose that, despite some of its trappings, moves along at a solid pace; and though it may not be laugh-out-loud funny, the book is indeed humorous (and grotesque in spots), with a cast of characters who aren't quite believable, even if their surroundings come roaring to life. THE THING ABOUT THUGS isn't a perfect novel (the alternating prose styles take some getting used to, and the plot doesn't really kick in until about 100 pages), but it has more than enough to recommend it for literature lovers. More mainstream readers should probably look elsewhere, though if you have some guts and a heaping amount of curiosity, THUGS is still definitely worth your time.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Overview:

It's worth pointing out that virtually everything on the back of the book is misleading. The novel is neither subversive nor macabre. Amir Ali's skull, while of intense phrenological study, is hardly "villainously shaped". Ali is barely involved in the investigation that the back mentions - an investigation that takes place only in the last fifth of the book. The settings mentioned on the back are hardly involved in the story. It's kind of obnoxious.

Sometimes the author conflates cuteness with quality. For example, there is an interchange between Major Grayper and a Constable Watson that is reminiscent of...yep...Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. This wouldn't be so irritating if there weren't egregious problems with the book (i.e., the plot).

If the author had not written the last fifth of the book the way that he had, it might have been much better. It seems as though he lost track of what he was trying to do, and just wanted to finish the story. The graceful, lilting, mellifluosity gets replaced with a shambling mess. The resolution falls flat, almost mockingly so. Until then, it was fantastic.

This could probably have been expanded to roughly twice it's length, and still been worth reading (and probably more worthwhile).

A. Plot/Backstory

The basic premise of the story is that Amir Ali, an Indian brought to London by Captain Meadows, has come to fill in details about the Thugee cult. The plot weaves back and forth in time, somewhat, but is relatively straightforward. A series of murders start taking place, and the ethnocentric Londoners assume that it must be Amir Ali (or some other Easterner) to be responsible for them.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The book follows several characters, including a self-professed Indian thug, a trio of English men who turn criminal, a collector of skulls, and various other people. The chapters are quite short, sometimes just a page, so the book is one of those that you can dip into for a few minutes at a time and still follow the story. The narrative alternates between the various characters, and there are chapters that are letters written from the protagonist to his lady love.

I admit some confusion at first in understanding who had written the letters. I really don't want to say that it's confusing; it does become clear. It's just that I didn't catch on right away. And there is a first-person narrator who lives in the present and is "seeing" the lives of these other characters through books and letters from the past. So it took me a few chapters to understand the flow.

I found myself liking the characters and when I started to anticipate what bad things might happen to them I really hoped the bad stuff wouldn't happen. I won't spoil the plot for you. I will say that the back cover blurb made me think Ali, the main character in Victorian London, would be working almost like a detective, but that's actually not really the case. He is implicated in some murders, but while he did do some spying, it was another character who found out clues through her contacts. This is not a who-dunnit mystery; it's more of a literary story about a man caught up in something he didn't do and the effects on his life and friends.

It's an enjoyable read and the language and descriptions are often musical in their eloquence. But don't expect a thriller or a modern mystery.
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Format: Hardcover
I wouldn't call The Thing about Thugs simply a crime novel, at least not in the traditional meaning of the term; it is so much more: a historic novel, a literary mystery, a meeting between the present and the past, and kind of a fairytale.

What one mostly enjoys in this book is not the suspense, even if there's plenty, and it's not the fast-pace, since it reads like a stroll in the park; it's the setting, the writing and the characters that make all the difference.

The author doesn't seem to be very interested in the mystery, since he lets the reader know who is who and what he or she does right from the start. He is mostly preoccupied with the themes of love, racial prejudice, social status, the rich and the poor.

He paints a pretty bleak picture of Victorian London where most of the action takes place, and it's exactly this picture, this background that grants his tale its validity, which makes it sound a bit outlandish, but nevertheless true.

His characters are sophisticated and fools; men of means and women of leisure; thugs and murderers; servants and dreamers. And most of them are either hypocrites or liars.

Amir Ali, one of the major characters, falls into the latter category. He made up a story to escape his past and find a passage from poor and illiterate India to rich and enlightened England; a story that he almost came to believe himself; or rather a story that defined him: "In some ways, all of us become what we pretend to be," he says.

He was supposed to be a thug back in his homeland. At least that's what he said to Captain William T. Meadows, the man who saved him from a life of danger and chaos. But the truth is that he was only a novice, a protégé of a real thug, his uncle.
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