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Narcopolis Thayil, Jeet ( Author ) Apr-12-2012 Hardcover

3.3 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (12 April 2012)
  • ASIN: B00AAAFHO4
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,305,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In "Narcopolis", Jeet Thayil pulls off that tricky thing of writing about protagonists under narcotic influence surprisingly well for me, although it's fair to say that it won't be everyone's taste. It's not a book that the Bombay/Mumbai tourist office will be keen to promote. A cover quotation links the book to a similar vein (OK, that's a poor choice of words in the circumstances) to "Trainspotting" and that's not far from the mark.

Thayil opens the story in the 1970s in Rashid's opium house where his regulars, including the narrator, in Indian student named Dom, interact with Rashid and the memorable character of Dimple, a eunuch who expertly prepares the pipes. What, for me, makes this successful is that he slowly and gently takes the reader into the depths of the dream-like world they live in. On the surface of the book, it's very much about addiction, to narcotics but also to sex and alcohol, but at a deeper level it's also a using drugs as a huge metaphor for the changes in India over the period from the simplicity of opium, and the long-standing historical links between China and India, to the more damaging modern narcotics of heroin from Pakistan which has a more violent and damaging impact on its users. India remains a melting pot of religion, cultures and wealth throughout but Thayil is suggesting that it is the more modern influences that have made it more damaging and violent. When his narrator, Dom, returns in present day though, he is just as drawn in to the vice as he was in the 1970s, so perhaps little has changed.

Thayil does explore some of the inherent contradictions in Indian life but in many ways you get less of a flavour of India than with the older generation of Indian writers.
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Format: Paperback
This is the author's first novel but he has already produced 4 books of poetry. The book is all about Bombay, so much so that the name is the first and last word of the book, although it contains a brief, and to my mind less than successful, journey to China's Cultural Revolution. Otherwise we are mostly amongst the Shuklaji Street opium dens of the city in the 1970s, and meet a series of characters that are, with one exception, uniformly grim. It may be argued that the central character is the city itself, so well does the author describe its squalor, violence and occasional beauty. As the author is using his 20 years of opium addiction as a backdrop to the novel it deserves to be treated seriously.

The central location of the book is Rashid's opium den and its main characters, Rashid himself, the aged Bengali, Dom, probably something of a self-portrait of the author, and Dimple, a hijra, who was sold by her mother and castrated at the age of 8, and is now a prostitute and preparer of the pyali ball for the opium pipes of the addicts who frequent Rashid's. However, Dimple has taught herself to read and uses opium mainly to dull her constant pain, a result of her castration and prostitution. Some might say at the outset that she gets what she deserves but few would hold this opinion at the end of the book.

There are numerous intertwining stories involving pimps, prostitutes, beggars, addicts and criminals, some more successful and interesting than others, and there certainly is no plot as such, which some readers may find bothersome. We see the narrator, American-educated Dom Ulisis, choosing to spend his life in Rashid's establishment after being deported back to India for attempting to buy drugs?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, a Booker 2012 longlist nominee, is a portrait of drug addicts in Bombay. Omniscient narrator Dom describes a variety of characters encountered in Bombay's drug dens. Prostitute Dimple, Chinese refugee Mr Lee, drug dealer Rashid etc.

There are, without a doubt some absolute gems hidden within the prose of Narcopolis, a passage about the nature of doubt stood out for me, and the novel got off to a good start, but there is no plot as such; despite the quality of the prose I found myself disengaging from the novel and at a certain undefinable point it stopped being something I was reading, and became a chore I had to get through.

For readers unfamiliar with India, use of slang and cultural references, will sometimes create a barrier of understanding, or did for me at any rate. I suppose if I wanted to give it a catchy, easily understood summary I'd say "It's an Indian Trainspotting". Likewise did Trainspotting, with its use of local dialect create a comprehension barrier for the average reader.

Narcopolis is the 8th book on the longlist which I have now read, with the exception of Bring Up The Bodies which I read regardless of its presence on the list, at the time of publication, I have been pretty disappointed with this years list, plenty of "good" solid books like The Lighthouse say, but nothing which has transcended words on a page, and entered a part of my mind or heart.
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By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback
Narcopolis begins and ends in Bombay. I suspect that, in the middle, Jeet Thayil had hoped to create a Bombay epic. It is probably not substantial enough to achieve that ambition, but is an interesting and quirky look at Indian life through an opium cloud.

The novel is bookended by the narration of an American dopehead, Dom Ullis, who first visits Rashid's opium den in the late 1970s or early 1980s - time is fairly unspecific - and returns some 20-30 years later. He is intrigued by some of the characters he meets, most intriguing of whom is Dimple, a woman who used to be a man. Dom's sections are not terribly lucid; they drift in and out of focus; they have psychobabble wittering; they have the detachment of a tourist who knows that he won't really be touched by anything he sees or does.

The more interesting sections are the central "meat" of the book. We uncover elements of Dimple's story and those she encounters. Hence we get the story of Mr Lee, a Chinese man who has fled the cultural revolution. We half discover how Dimple came to be castrated and ended up working in a brothel. We have the story of Rashid and Rumi and a host of other minor villains. As the stories converge on Rashid's den, they start to contradict as much as they overlap The lucidity with which we see Dimple's earlier life and Mr Lee' story of flight blurs into a smoky haze.

This could all have been a bit of a disaster were it not for the engaging brilliance of Dimple. She suffered abuse and humiliation, yet she plied her trade trade in brothels and drug dens with detached dignity. She intrigued both clients and employers alike. Yet for all the charisma, for all the victimhood, she is not quite angelic. She is willing to lie, cheat, steal and perhaps more to get what she wants.
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