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The Thing about Thugs Hardcover – 24 Jul 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 1 edition (24 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547731604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547731605
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,022,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Tabish Khair is an acclaimed poet and novelist whose recent novels have been shortlisted for the Encore Award (UK) and the Crossword Prize (India). Translated into various languages, his works include Where Parallel Lines Meet, Babu Fictions: Alienation in Indian English Novels, The Bus Stopped, Filming: A Love Story, The Glum Peacock and The Gothic, Postcolonialism and Otherness: Ghosts from Elsewhere. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lakis Fourouklas on 23 July 2012
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson on 3 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Thugee groups of India gave rise to our use of the word "thug". This group of assassins came into existence in the 1300s and (supposedly) died out in the 1800s through British intervention. Our "hero" presents himself as a member of that infamous group.

Though anything more than what the Book Description (above) tells about the plot will verge on being a spoiler, it's best if you assume that description downplayed the intensity of each of the things it mentions. Studying lumps on heads does take on a new dimension in Khair's novel. Though fiction, it is reflective of a harsh period in the history of both India and England. And, it is set among the edges of society where bad things happened on a regular basis.

The descriptions of the characters and the settings are kept at a minimum. We learn only that which is necessary for the story to develop. The story itself immerses the reader so deeply into those settings that some mental "hand washing" takes place after each stint of reading. This is a tense story told tightly and the book seems longer than it actually is. Most writers would take at least twice as many pages to tell the same story, and the telling would suffer because of it.

Readers who like their books to start on a Monday morning and progress through the week and have "The End" posted on Sunday evening might be disappointed. So will those who like for a story to have a single narrator who always tells the truth and keeps you informed about where the story is taking place and who the players are.

However, those who are willing to put some effort into the reading of the book and go on a tour through time, space and enough social situations to satisfy several dissertations will be delighted by the goings on in this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lots of people wandering around telling stories. It might be considered a great piece of writing but it simply fails to get going quick enough. I found the writing patronising to both reader and character.

Just did not like it, wanted a tory to develop instead of having to wait through pages of characters internal dialogue.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross TOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 Jun 2012
Format: Hardcover
Gruesome beheadings! The infamous Thugee cult! A young man Indian man in Victorian London! This all sounds like great fodder for a fun mystery/adventure story, and I was predisposed to like this book due to these elements. Unfortunately, although I more or less enjoyed this book well enough, it never quite fulfilled my expectations. One issue is that the book is told through three different narrative lines: a young man (the author) in contemporary India who is poking around his grandfather's old library and discovering scraps of a fascinating tale; the third-person story of a young Indian brought to London by a wealthy phrenologist to narrate his life as a thugee, and the diary-in-letters of that young Indian, written to his English love interest (set in a really annoying script typeface). The constant switching back and forth between these in different sections (there are 120 sections in the book, roughly one every other page), along with the occasional other insertion (a newspaper story, an excerpt from a book manuscript, etc.), kept taking me out of the story and the book as a whole.

A second issue I had with the book is not really of the author's making. It's being marketed to a certain extent as a mystery, but there's little mystery to the events. The reader learns who is committing the murders and why very early on, and the opening pages of the book include a description of the villan's fate. As a result, there's no real tension involving the murders until quite late in the story, when the hero is accused and his friends rally their underground resources to try and unmask the true culprits. Which aren't to say there aren't some fun characters, some colorful period detail, and scraps of a ripping yarn here and there -- but it doesn't coalesce into anything truly satisfying.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 34 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
"Stories, true or false, are difficult to escape from." 28 May 2012
By DanD - Published on Amazon.com
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Victorian adventure from a different vantage point 17 Jun 2012
By Karen S. Garvin - Published on Amazon.com
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. The author did an excellent job of depicting the variety of people living in Victorian London, including immigrants, as well as the mindset of the times, which is quite racist by our standards. However, I thought the author handled the material well without sermonizing about politics. This is one of those stories that can put you closer to understanding people than many history books, if only because it makes you think about the people behind the events and laws and customs. If you have any interest in Victorian London, this is worth adding to your library.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A joy to read 24 July 2012
By Lakis Fourouklas - Published on Amazon.com
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. He had to lie in order to avoid killing or being killed, and now, living in London, in a new world that he more than less likes, but doesn't really comprehend, he comes to realize that his lie will come back to haunt him.

As a series of brutal murders start to take place in the city, during which the heads of the victims are stolen, all the suspicions of the police, largely thanks to the yellow press, fall on the immigrants. People talk about ancient, barbaric rituals being practiced in the dark alleys of the city, and a veil of fear seems to linger over it.

Amir is the prime suspect and he can do nothing to prove his innocence, not without betraying the trust of someone he loves. So he's left with no choice; he has to become a fugitive of the law in order to survive and make things right. In this battle he'll not be alone, as the other poor souls of the streets will hasten to his aid: a Punjabi woman, who's a queen bee in her corner of the world, a mostly drunken Irishman, a few of his compatriots, the thugs and the poppers and the Mole People of London, the crowd that lives underground. They know that he's a victim of the circumstances, and if they don't want to become victims themselves they have to take things into their own hands.

This is great book in more than one ways, as it copes with many of the issues of that past -and this present- world, and puts them into perspective. The myth is rich, the plot more than interesting and the writing quite exquisite; a joy to read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
What a disappointing non-ending... 11 July 2012
By Harkius - Published on Amazon.com
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. Meanwhile, Amir Ali falls in love with a Londoner, and the darker characters of the criminal class take it upon themselves to solve the murders to protect Amir Ali, one of their own.

Unfortunately, the plot is a major weakness of the story, as there is never much of a resolution. I got to the end of this and literally said, "You've got to be kidding me!" What little resolution that there is mostly occurs off-stage. We're left to hear about what happened later. This, mon frere, is not desirable.

B. Characters

There are a lot of interesting characters here. This is the good part. The bad part is that there are so many tantalizing threads, so many foreshadowings, that go unfulfilled. What is in the past of Qui Hy and Paddyji? What happens to Gungan and his laskars? What is the deal with Bubba Bookman? Etc.

The main characters, Amir Ali, Jenny, Captain Meadows, Qui Hy, John May (who isn't "never May, never John, but is always John May", because he IS "May" several times, which is gratingly annoying), Major Grayper, are all interesting. Their foibles and imaginings are interesting, their ethnocentricities and biases are clear but no less compelling. They're well developed, all of them.

C. Setting

The story is set virtually entirely in London, with interludes elsewhere, but they're not active interludes, just remembrances. When you compare it with Dan Simmon's "Drood", Tabish Khair woefully underuses the criminal class of London at this time period. Unfortunate.

D. Themes

Love, loss, revenge. The usual.

E. Point of View

For most of the story, Amir Ali is the narrator. For some reason, though, the author decides to throw that away, and randomly switch points of view in the last fifth of the book, which, really, is just a jumble.

F. Aesthetics

The aesthetics here were beautiful. They were one of the strengths here. Many of the thoughts of the characters were very nice, very well written. It's quite different from your average Victoriana, and the discordance is rather enjoyable.

Conclusion:

This is probably worth reading, as the first 80% of the book really is beautiful. Unfortunately, the last 20% is just awful. Still, I will probably read it again.

Harkius
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Exotic tale of lords & lascars 10 Jun 2012
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Tabish Khair gives us a highly original view of Victorian London in this book. We meet with upper class gentlemen obsessed with phrenology, the pseudo-science of reading head bumps. We consort with ayahs, lascars, opium addicts, beggars, gypsies, and lowly servants. We even get glimpses of the Mole People, who live in the London sewers. We leap into graves with body snatchers. And we wander the filthy foggy streets of London in the company of three murderers who kill in order to harvest human heads.

For this strange book is a murder mystery, although we know who's doing the murders and why. The suspense, which is intense, comes from our fear that the wrong man will hang for the crimes: Amir Ali, a gentle, well educated young Indian man who earned his passage to England by pretending to be a reformed thug. His kind patron wants to write a book about the atrocious rites of Thugee.

By pretending to be an ex-assassin, Amir sets himself up to be an ideal murder suspect.

The official investigator, Major Grayper, a rigid military man with all the prejudices of his class, has no hope of getting at the truth. The real investigator is Qui Hy, a fat old Indian woman with gout and sore knees, who culls information from the denizens of the London streets. She's a great character, one of many colorful characters you'll meet in these pages.

There is more than one love story woven into the plot.

This is a very literary, even poetic novel - using the Victorian device of a supposedly real narrator piecing together old letters and notes. I found it a bit confusing at first, but ultimately got quite swept up in the story. I recommend it as a historical novel with deep themes and an exotic flavor.
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