Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil
Source – Library copy
Jeet Thayil is from Kerala in India ,he is the son of a well-known editor .This meant he grew up in Hong-Kong and New york .He has a degree in Fine art ,he has written Poetry ,librettist and now a writer Nacropolis is his Début Novel .The book was shortlist for the Man booker prize this year and also I m reviewing it as the last of this year’s Man Asian short list .The book also recently won the DSC prize for south-east Asian Literature .
Bombay ,which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face ,is the hero or heroin of this story ,and since I’m the one who’s telling it and you don’t know who I am ,let me say that we’ll get to who of it but not right now ,because now there’s time enough not to hurry ,to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city .
The opening prologue of the book .
Nacropolis is set in the 70’s and 80’s ,the book is set in a darker and old Bombay ,than I have met in Indian fiction before .This book is a story of drugs and that city how drugs effect the everyday life of a group of people over twenty year .The group we meet are all connected in some way to Rashid’s opium house on a street in Bombay .The people living in this book are the short of mish mash of characters and show that drugs can effect one and all .,Dimple a castrated prostitute who has been at Rashid’s since she was a girl .The book in a way shows her journey and the changing face of drug taking within India from opium to heroin . We also see China a bit as well as one of the regulars is from China and we learn about the communists taking of China in flashback .Thayil used his own experiences to build this book .This is the story of the real city of Bombay before it changed and became a new city .
I went back the next day and found Rashid in his room ,sitting in his chair by the window with prayer beads in his hands .I asked if he was feeling better .
I’ll never be good or better .I’m past the age of it ,Now there’s only bad or worse
I said I had come to pay my respects
Rashid said ,”I’m an old man . I don’t want talk about the o,ld days ” but he brought it up himself .
The end of the story as Rashid house is gone and the city is changing
I found this book dizzying at times Thayil is a very frank writer ,this isn’t drugs dressed up and beautified ,no Thayil is a former drug addict and has used this book to show the harm drugs do to people .As much as in place it is horrifying in others it is touching it is like watching a car crash in slow motion you want to look away but can’t as you are transfixed by the action .Thayil has done for Indian drug culture and opening it up for what it is ,the same as Irvine Welsh ,William Burroughs ,Robert Bolano and numerous other writers ,the more you read about drug taking you see that if it Edinburgh ,,Mexico city or Bombay the fallout from taking drugs is just the same .Thayil,has said in interview he wants this to be a view of addicts that makes people have empathy with them for being real people .
Have you read this book ?
What did you think of the books on this years Man Asian shortlist ?