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The Thing about Thugsby Tabish Khair
Synopses & Reviews
A confessed member of India's thugee cult, Amir Ali claims to have participated in over seventy robberies and murders by age fourteen. A shocking tale, and completely fabricated for the benefit of British army officer William T. Meadows. An amateur anthropologist, Captain Meadows is eager to bring this intriguing young man to London, there to make him a phrenological case study. And Ali is looking to escape his Bihari village, where a property dispute ended in tragedy for his family.
In London at the dawn of the Victorian era, pitfalls await Ali. His love affair with scullery maid Jenny must be hidden from disapproving eyes. When Jenny's aunt is beheaded by a killer preying on London's marginalized--the poor, opium addicts, immigrants and prostitutes--Ali is drawn ever further into the heart of a hostile city. To allay the suspicions of London policeman Major Grayper and bring the true murderer to justice, he comes to rely on a group of fellow immigrants led by a streetwise Punjabi woman known as Qui Hy.
Brought to life with an abundance of voices and perspectives, and ranging from skull-lined mansions to the murky tunnels concealing a spectral subterranean people, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Michael Chabon. Shortlisted for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this Victorian role-reversal is a sly take on the post-colonial novel and marks the new arrival of a compelling Indian voice to North America.
"In his American debut — a Victorian mystery pastiche — Khair is as comfortable rendering late-1830s London as he is Phansa, 'a wretched little town' in India, some hundred years later. The focus is Amir Ali, ostensibly a reformed member of the fearsome Indian 'cult of Thugee' living in 19th-century London, and subject of Capt. William T. Meadows's phrenological study, Notes on a Thug: Character and Circumstances. Alternating between Notes on a Thug — which comprises Amir's confabulated depravities — and letters from Amir to his beloved, Jenny, the unnamed narrator tells the story based on snippets found in his grandfather's library in Phansa. When a series of brutal beheadings scandalizes London, suspicion quickly falls on the well-known 'thug.' Relying on his own wits and a group of fellow Indians, Amir must prove his innocence and bring the real perpetrators to justice. Although Khair shows a deft hand with a wide variety of genres, the mystery is finally overwhelmed by the overt postcolonial critique, and the predictable story sags under its weight. Agent: Matt Bialer, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A subversive, darkly comic novel of a young Indian man's misadventures in Victorian London as the city is gripped by a series of gruesome murders. Shortlisted for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this sly update of the Gothic novel marks the new arrival of a compelling Indian voice in North America.
A subversive, macabre novel of a young Indian man’s misadventures in Victorian London as the city is racked by a series of murders
In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to England, his villainously shaped skull there to be studied. Only Ali knows just how embroidered his story is, so when a killer begins depriving London’s underclass of their heads, suspicion naturally falls on the “thug.” With help from fellow immigrants led by a shrewd Punjabi woman, Ali journeys deep into a hostile city in an attempt to save himself and end the gruesome murders.
Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels a ghostly people call home, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins or Michael Chabon. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this sly Victorian role reversal marks the arrival of a compelling new Indian novelist to North America.
About the Author
Tabish Khair is an award-winning poet, journalist, critic, educator and novelist. A citizen of India, he lives in Denmark and teaches literature at Aarhus University.
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