Posted By trish on March 9, 2012
• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: The Penguin Press (April 12, 2012)
A fantastical portrait of the beautiful and damned residents of an opium den and brothel in the underworld of Bombay.
Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story…
Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul. Written in Thayil’s poetic and affecting prose, Narcopolis charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis.
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.
Jeet Thayil was born, to a family of Syrian Christians, in Kerala, India, in 1959. He was educated in Jesuit schools in Bombay, Hong Kong and New York, cities in which his father worked as an editor and writer. He worked as a journalist in Bombay and Hong Kong before returning to New York in 1998 to read for an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. He then worked as a journalist with a newspaper in New York City, until, in 2004, he moved from the United States to India to write. His books of poetry are: These Errors Are Correct (2008), English (2004), Apocalypso (1997) and Gemini (1992); and he is the editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (2008). As a musician and songwriter, he is one half of the contemporary music project Sridhar/Thayil. His libretto for the opera Babur in London will tour internationally in 2012. He lives in New Delhi. Narcopolis is his first novel.
Jeet’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, April 17th: The Year in Books
Wednesday, April 18th: Chunky Monkey
Thursday, April 19th: Unabridged Chick
Friday, April 20th: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, April 23rd: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, April 26th: A Novel Source
Monday, April 30th: Conceptual Reception
Tuesday, May 1st: A Reader of Fictions
Thursday, May 3rd: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Monday, May 7th: Chaos is a Friend of Mine
Tuesday, May 8th: Beastmomma
Thursday, May 10th: What She Read…
Tuesday, May 15th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Monday, May 21st: Stiletto Storytime
Friday, June 15th: Poet Hound