From TLC book tours:
Narcopolis opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city’s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.
Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city’s underbelly has become ever rawer. Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives. Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty-at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka-wearing identity.
After a long absence, the narrator returns to find a very different Bombay in 2004. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the heights of the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed.
Pages: 304 (hardback)
Rating: 6 out of 10
Source: Received a copy as part of TLC book tour
When I was invited to join the TLC book tour for Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, I was excited. I am Indian-American and have read a fair amount of South Asian literature. I have also been to India quite a few times to visit family and even spent some time in Bombay. When I read the description of the book, I knew that the story I was going to read would be very different from the world I know in India which includes visiting the homes of various relatives with a few dining excursions and tourist destinations thrown into the mix. My knowledge of the "underworld" was limited to reading news articles about the rise of addiction and seeing one dimensional depictions of addicts in Bollywood movies.
As I got into the story, I was definitely transported to a different world. The narrator made me feel as though I was in a drug induced haze. I was frequently confused about who was speaking and whether I was reading about reality or a hallucination. I frequently had to stop in the middle of chapters to tend to my infant daughter who did not always respect my desire to read for a good stretch of time :) My frequent starting and stopping contributed to my difficulty with getting into the story.
Another thing which made it tough for me to get into the story was that I did not feel much empathy towards many of the characters. The exception to that sentiment is Dimple. I found her to be a bright spot in the story. I could relate to her trying to make a home in the place where she was abandoned. I loved the moments when we have a glimpse into her childhood, particularly the interactions she has with her mother.
Even though the subject matter and writing style were tough for me to follow, I was glad to read the book and happy that it exists. When books are from a certain region or written by an author of a particular gender or race, I think there can be an expectation that a story will have a certain tone or point of view. It is awesome when a piece of work comes into the world that illustrates that the experiences of a people or a region are diverse and complex.
You can see what other tour hosts are saying about the book by visiting here.
I am counting this book for the following challenges:
- 2012 South Asian Reading Challenge: The author is South Asian
- 2012 Global Reading Challenge: I am counting it for the continent of Asia.
- World Party Challenge: Way late (or early), but I am counting for the September book from India.