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.
"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)
"From the arresting opening line of Indra Sinha's vivid second novel, the voice of Animal, the narrator, leaps out to grab you by the throat. Bawdy, irreverent and smart...Animal's People -- part coming-of-age Bildungsroman, part vicious critique of corporate terrorism -- is a bold and punchy tale." -- Lucy Beresfoford, New Statesman
"An extraordinary achievement. Sinha fends off all condescension with the salty and scabrous urchin's voice -- a virtuoso compound of Irvine Welsh and Salman Rushdie. Yet, for all its surface profanity, Animal's People mingles sentiment with its savagery.... [S]hould spur a new generation to find out about the foulest act of corporate homicide in modern history." -- Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. What does Animal mean when he says he "used to be human once"? What does being human mean to Animal? What does Animal believe it would take for him to "become human" again? Does Animal get his wish?
2. Who is Khã-in-the-Jar and what does he want from Animal? What do Khã-in-the-Jar and the others like him represent for Animal? How are readers to understand and make sense of Khã-in-the-Jar?
3. What is the significance of names in the story? How do the names of individuals and things both suggest and obscure their meaning or value? What is the significance of the book's title, Animal's People?
4. As outsiders, both Zafar and Elli attempt to help the people of Khaufpur. Compare and contrast their approaches. What are the costs and benefits of each? With whom did you find yourself most sympathetic? Why?
5. What does Animal mean when he says that time does not exist for the poor? Why must all things be "now o'clock"?
6. Who or what is Kampani? What do Zafar's dream and Elli's confessions reveal about Kampani?
7. Animal, Ma Franci, and Zafar conceive of "that night" and its repercussions in unique and specific ways. Detail how each understands and makes sense of the events of "that night" and why the disaster occurred. How does each believe "that night" should be resolved for the people of Khaufpur? With whom do you find yourself in most agreement? Why?
8. What happened during the night of the factory fire? What is the significance of the mysterious woman clad in burqa with a broom? What parts did Animal, Ma Franci, and others play in that fateful event? What did the fire mean for the community, for Animal? What role will it play for them in the future?
9. To what does Elli, Animal, and Somraj's discussion of music and its relationship to promises refer? What do the music and promises metaphors tell us? What do they tell Animal? Do these metaphors continue to resonate for Animal at the end of his tale? Why or why not?
10. Animal's People has been described as a book that "has its roots in unspeakable tragedy, but manages to stay upbeat, darkly funny, and utterly devoid of self-pity." Do you agree with this statement? Discuss some of the key elements of the story that validate/invalidate this claim.