opium

Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis (Review #6)

Rating: 3.5
Narcopolis
A Novel by Jeet Thayil
2012/292 Pages

When the Man Booker long list was released, I eagerly read the synopsis for each book and then listed them number one through twelve on a sheet of paper in the order in which I wanted to read them. Bringing Up the Bodies and Garden of Evening Mists topped my list of books I could not wait to read. Narcopolis was the very last book on my list. From the cover art to the description of the book, nothing attracted me to this book. I did not want to read it for any reason – ever; yet, it made the short list, so as part of the Bookermarks project, I would have to read it.  (more…)

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Book Review: Shortlisted: Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis (Review #3)

Rating: 4
Narcopolis
A Novel by Jeet Thayil
2012 / 292 Pages

Jeet Thayil’s Man Booker Prize-nominated novel is set in Bombay, India during the 1970s and 80s, where the city’s slums are overrun with dogs, children, and detriment, and the opium dens are always full.  Narcopolis chronicles the lives of several addicts during the cultural shift from opium to cheaply-made heroin.  We meet Rashid, who owns and operates the opium shop along with the help of Dimple, a eunuch prostitute known for making the best pipe in the city.  Our narrator, Dom, wafts in and out of the story, and slowly, through flickering opium-blurred images, we see a cultural portrait emerge – one of religion, gender, sex, tradition, addiction, and the fine balance between pleasure and pain.

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Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis

NarcopolisRating: 3.5
Narcopolis
A Novel by Jeet Thayil
2012 / 292 Pages

The Setup: 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. (From the hardcover edition)

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