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Animal's Peopleby Indra Sinha
Synopses & Reviews
I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet, just like a human being...
Ever since he can remember, Animal has gone on all fours, his back twisted beyond repair by the catastrophic events of that night when a burning fog of poison smoke from the local factory blazed out over the town of Khaufpur, and the Apocalypse visited his slums. Now just turned seventeen and well schooled in street work, he lives by his wits, spending his days jamisponding (spying) on town officials and looking after the elderly nun who raised him, Ma Franci. His nights are spent fantasizing about Nisha, the girlfriend of the local resistance leader, and wondering what it must be like to get laid.
When Elli Barber, a young American doctor, arrives in Khaufpur to open a free clinic for the still suffering townsfolk — only to find herself struggling to convince them that she isn't there to do the dirty work of the Kampani — Animal gets caught up in a web of intrigues, scams, and plots with the unabashed aim of turning events to his own advantage.
Profane, piercingly honest, and scathingly funny, Animal's People illuminates a dark world shot through with flashes of joy and lunacy. A stunning tale of an unforgettable character, it is an unflinching look at what it means to be human: the wounds that never heal and a spirit that will not be quenched.
"Indra Sinha's 'Animal's People,' which recently won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the best book in the Europe and Asia region and was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize, doles out a fair share of tragedy. Set in the slums of a re-imagined and renamed Bhopal, India, site of the deadly Union Carbide gas leak, the novel promises to level a damning indictment against corporate greed and indifference... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to human suffering. And so it does, and so it might have remained, righteous and dreary. But the book achieves much more than the predictable conjuring of sympathy, outrage or mute despair, and for this the reader has Animal to thank, the irrepressibly horny and uncannily resourceful narrator, whose spine, twisted as a result of that poisoned night, forces him to walk on all fours. Burdened by the thought that he is less man than beast, he spends most of his days trying to subdue the troublesome animal in his shorts. 'Sex was the one thing I could never forget, my second impossible wish. My first wish was to stand upright, but why did I want that if not because it led to the second?' So pressing are his urges that they vex him more than the fact that he's a hooked-back urchin always hunting for his next meal. 'The curse of lust is back worse than ever,' he says. 'No peace the bastard lund now gives, constantly it begs.' So here, almost two decades after the industrial calamity that poisoned his city, Animal of the Gutter comes of age. While the survivors of that night endure each new day as if the killing gas dances about their nostrils still, our razor-tongued narrator lopes on all fours through the garbage-strewn streets, masturbates in trees, proclaims his love for Nisha — also born of that defining tragedy — and waxes poetic about his prodigious member. An oddly arresting balance of the tragic and the comic saves Animal from becoming little more than a hapless chump through which the author can display his pity and outrage. Our narrator, four-legged bugger that he is, will shape his own destiny, thank you very much, and happily pick your pocket to boot. 'See, if you are going to con people and get away with it,' he tells us, 'you have to be able to vanish in a crowd.' And vanish into the crowd he does — at the urging of a handsome zealot who's convinced that the new clinic in town, administered by an American doctor, is nothing more than a nefarious attempt to gather information on the people poisoned so long ago. In response, Animal sneaks around town gathering information of his own. From here Sinha expertly gallops his ingenious boy creature through a series of spyings and eaves-droppings that cleverly lead us to the night that serves as a bookend to the original tragedy two decades before. On this night — experienced in a fevered hallucination — Animal retreats to the jungle to live as the beast he believes himself to be and to sweat through the re-birth that satisfies the novel's thematic interests. But Sinha's decision to remove the narrator from the resolution of events he's reported on for the previous 350-odd pages is a misstep. Animal emerges from his jungle stint only to find the story has largely played out. He's missed all the juicy bits, and so has the reader. What follows is a perfunctory wrapping up. Yet this flaw does not long detract from the novel's serious intent and ribald telling. The right writer has met the right tragedy. Dennis Bock is the author of 'The Ash Garden' and 'The Communist's Daughter.'" Reviewed by Dennis Bock, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Compelling, heart-wrenching and laced with redemptive hope...it explores the really big issues — justice, equality, the nature of humanity — and does not once flinch from what it discovers." The Observer
"Sinha's writing is a blade gleaming in the moonlight. And the novel, for all its pain, is a work of profound humanity." The Guardian
"Animal's People is raw, furious, and utterly compelling. Indra Sinha is a brave writer, and he's produced a novel of great power." Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
"I was absolutely bowled over by [Animal's People]. It is brilliant. In the narrator, Animal, Sinha's created a character who's as original and memorable in his own way as Holden Caulfield — funny, profane, witty, touching and immensely appealing." John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
"A double triumph for Sinha: The plight of the world's powerless has seldom been conveyed more powerfully, while Animal is destined to be one of fiction's immortals." Kirkus Reviews
"[A]n antic, ribald, and searing tale of greed and heroism. Sinha's daring farce asks what it means to be human, rekindles compassion for the still uncompensated victims of the real-life catastrophe, and celebrates the resiliency of love and goodness in the poorest and most poisoned of places." Booklist (starred review)
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Animal's People is by turns a profane, scathingly funny, and piercingly honest tale of a boy so badly damaged by the poisons released during a chemical plant leak that he walks on all fours.
About the Author
Sinha, one of the pioneers of the net in Britain, was born in India. He had a successful career as an advertising writer in London.
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