Jeet Thayil: Narcopolis (London: Faber & Faber, 2012)
“Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story”
In her long-awaited novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy asked: “How to tell a shattered story?” There could not be a better answer than Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis.
Its shattered stories take you into the opium dens of Old Bombay, through the oppression of Maoist China, and back to the streets of what is now Mumbai, a metropolis that has exchanged its freedom for Hindutva ideology. The nexus which holds these shattered stories together is the hybrid narrative voice, a synthesis of the character Dom Ullis and the Chinese opium pipe that clouds his mind. It is the latter which turns Narcopolis into an addictive hallucinatory trip that is by no means inferior to its Western counterparts from Burroughs to Welsh.
This book is a postmodern exploration into memory, narrative (un-)reliability, and the fluidity of (sexual) identity, which leaves you with the sour taste of capitalist patriarchy that can only be washed away by more of this novel’s true drug. Narcopolis is dark, dusty, and disillusioning, but it immortalizes a city which lost its spirit; the first and last word of this novel: Bombay.
– recommended by Andreas Schwengel, MA student and passionate (Pader)Born 2 Read Book Club member