Jeet Thayil is a poet and his first novel,Narcopolis, has been published by Penguin Press in 2012. The story takes place in Bombay’s drug-centered underworld during the 1970s when opium is being left behind for a new and far more dangerous drug: heroin. The characters are an intriguing mix and encompass those who take drugs, those who sell drugs or sex, and those who do both as well as those who enter rehab or who die before considering rehab. Drugs, sex, violence, and perversion are all eloquently displayed in the pages and you will find yourself rooting for those who try to untangle themselves from this underworld. My favorite character is Dimple, a “hijra” (eunuch) who tries to improve herself by reading books in English and escape the life of selling her body while also working in the opium dens. Dimple finds a way to escape the brothel she is in by tying herself to just one man who has other wives: Rashid. However, Rashid is prone to violence and is also lamenting the change in the times as he does not wish to deal in heroin despite losing customers at his opium den. There are many characters that you will be fascinated by: Mr. Lee from China who turns pipe smoking into an art form; Rashid’s son, Jamal, who saves Dimple out on the streets with just one word to the would-be attackers, and many more that get tangled up and then lost in Bombay. The book is a page turner and I highly recommend it for anyone curious about such a crime-ridden world.
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