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Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
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Narcopolis (2012)

by Jeet Thayil

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Read this aloud and loved the poetic flow of the language, the disjointed drugged and slightly surreal narrative, the achingly poignant characterizations, and the general milieu of Bombay. It was surprising empathetic and insightful about drugs and addiction, about the kinds of insights one can gain and the costs those insights can incur. But I am not from Bombay, not an Indian, and despite the wealth of Google search, still could not figure out some of the local terms and references. So like poetry, it is best if you just surf the language and let yourself go with the flow...
( )
  terribly | Mar 23, 2016 |
Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis is Mumbai through the seductive smoke of an opium pipe. He gives us the city, mostly in the seventies, when there were, apparently, still dens where addicts (along with slumming hippies) could retreat to chase the dragon. In these smoky dens stories were lived, told, and dreamed, stories that feature Muslims and Hindus, transsexuals and thugs, along with well-brought up young Indian men. It is far from being a paradise, but it is a zone where a kind of freedom is available, freedom we see slip away as opium is displaced by heroin, and usually heroin badly adulterated with poisons. Thayil tells the stories of the individuals who pass through the smoke and on to the powder, and also of the city in which they live with poetic aplomb. His prose traps one in the dream he writes. ( )
  dcozy | Mar 14, 2015 |
I picked up this book more on the promise of interesting writing rather than all the drugs, and as such I'm glad: it was a captivating read. But I don't really find people taking drugs that interesting, even if it's nostalgia for the opium pipe rituals of the past. ( )
  mari_reads | Oct 26, 2013 |
This is a book about corruption. It reads like an opium dream with stories sliding over each other, vivid and hungry language and occasional moments of stark lucidity. The effect is carefully deployed so that form meets function. It has a nostalgic feel and unfortunately deploys the old 'past is a better place' cliche. Like many books on addiction, its moralizing is hidden beneath sudden lurches into violence and a sub-plot involving a serial murderer is somewhat forced in. The language, like the drug, is exciting, languid and poetic. ( )
  freelancer_frank | Apr 7, 2013 |
That Narcopolis is not like the average work of fiction becomes apparent almost immediately. The book opens with a prologue consisting of only one sentence. A seven page sentence. The prologue was actually my favorite part, because it is so beautifully crafted. I read it to myself silently once and then aloud, and it really does have a great rhythm to it.

The book calls to mind, not the first time a book has done so since I've maintained this blog, my class on counterculture, which focused primarily on the Beats, but also included authors like William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller. Narcopolis definitely has a bit of the feel of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, although with an Indian flair, perhaps influences of Salman Rushdie (although since I have not actually had time to read one of his books all the way through yet, I can not say that for sure, but the opening did remind me of his style in what I read of Midnight's Children).

I was not a big fan of most of the books I read in my counterculture class. Had I had the blog back then, most of them would have been rated a 2 or lower, with the exceptions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, perhaps Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and an Andy Warhol book. Narcopolis I definitely enjoyed more than most. Like Fear and Loathing, much of the book is about existing in a drug-soaked haze, and the crazy things that happen as a result, however, other sections are amazingly clear-headed, concise philosophy and observations on the human condition.

Perhaps I do not need to point out that this is not a book for someone easily offended by, well, most things. There's a lot of drug-doing obviously, sex, violence, and swearing. Although I usually don't go too quote crazy, I'm going to include a couple here to show you examples of the insightful moments I found so moving, as well as to allow you to get a sense of Thayil's style.

" 'My religion is no way of knowing me.' " (214)

"Drugs are a bad habit, so why do it? Because, said Dimple, it isn't the heroin that we're addicted to, it's the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that's the real addiction and we never get over it; and because when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options offered." (228-9)

I especially adore that quote in reference to religion. Maybe it should have been my favorite, but, really, there were a lot of amazing bits in here. So, basically, don't let my relatively low rating scare you away. I'm not really the perfect audience for this, what with not being remotely interested in drugs and not being a huge fan of counterculture literature. Even with that in mind, though, I can heartily recommend this with a clear conscience to anyone who liked reading those things. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
If you were to write a story set in Bombay, as the poet Jeet Thayil prefers to call the city now known as Mumbai in his outstanding debut novel, you don't have to work too hard. Much of it can write itself if you connect the dots of history: a city made of islands reclaimed by the British, a polyglot culture where all of India's languages, faiths and castes mingle, where the prevailing currency is money and its dreams are told, nay, sung, in those schmaltzy, kitschy Bollywood movies, and which lives on an edge, periodically blown up when terrorists set explosives, but returning to life the next day, resilient and resigned.

The ingenuity of Thayil's novel lies in how he has squeezed this entire universe into an opium pipe. And when the narrative dissipates into smoke, it leaves a deceptively addictive odour, with memorable characters at the margins of society. There is Dimple, the eunuch keen to read and learn; the Bengali who pretends to know more than he does (or maybe he does); and Rashid himself, who runs the opium den with disdain that's at once sardonic and laconic. There are others too, given peculiar names drawn from Bombay slang, but most try to do no harm, and often show heartwarming humanity. The unobtrusive narrator is Dom, whose soul-killing job is as a proof-reader of publicity material in a pharmaceutical company (with easy access to chemical substances). Just alongside the den are other vices - prostitution and crime.
added by kidzdoc | editIndepenedent, Salil Tripathi (Mar 2, 2012)
 
Jeet Thayil’s debut novel, the deftly and aptly titled Narcopolis is—like the polis in which it takes place—part cacophony, part symphony: a whirlwind of drugs, sex, violence, loves, lives, deaths, and more than anything, stories. “Bombay,” the book begins, “which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story.” As the title suggests, the book is about drugs and about place. But it’s about much more than that as well.
 
Narcotic drugs have inspired much storytelling and literary dreaming, if rather less actual writing. Of those few novels that slide out of the smoke on to paper, we assume addiction is a requisite for authenticity and yet an enormous hindrance to productivity. After all, it is hardly playing by the rules of decadence and dereliction to find the willpower and tenacity to finish a manuscript. But a tiny number do convince the public that theirs is a genuine account of an addiction whose clutches the writer escaped for long enough to scribble down a compelling narrative: think William Burroughs's Junky, or Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

Does Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis, a tale of opium dens and heroin addiction in Mumbai, join that select club? It is not an easy task. And there's another challenge: many books by foreign-educated Indians read as though they were written in a New York penthouse suite, the author having spent a couple of weeks researching a multi-generational, sprawling saga of Mumbai lowlife by chatting to the house servants of their relatives on the phone.

Narcopolis is a blistering debut that can indeed stand proudly on the shelf next to Burroughs and De Quincey. Thayil is quoted as saying that he lost almost 20 years of his life to addiction, but on this showing the experience did not go to waste. We can celebrate that he emerged intact and gave us this book.
added by kidzdoc | editGuardian, Kevin Rushby (Feb 17, 2012)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jeet Thayilprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dean, RobertsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story.
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He had been a believer for most of his life, had observed the five prayer times and followed the dietary strictures. Then he'd exchanged one habit for another, he'd given up god and accepted O [opium]. With heroin he'd opened himself to the ungodly and for this he would pay, he knew. He would be seized by the feet and flung into the fire. Because the powder was a new thing, the devil's own nasha. Rashid knew it the first time he saw street junkies bent over strips of tin foil, the way they sucked at the smoke, the instantaneous effect of it, how it closed their eyes and shut them off from their own bodies and the world. He saw them and thought: this is it, the future, coming too fast to duck. And now he was doing the same. And he was helpless against god's great wrath.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159420330X, Hardcover)

Shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize

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 in 2004 to find a very different Bombay. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:35 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick with voices and ghosts: Hindu, Muslim, Christan. A young woman holds a long stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling accross her eyes. Men sprawl and mutter in the gloom. Here, they say you introduce only your worst enemy to opium. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pather Maar, the stone killer , whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. In the broken city, there are too many to count.… (more)

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