It took me two times starting to really get into this one – whew. But on the second attempt I realized how lovely, so real, so refreshing the Prologue was. And I’d say the first half was somewhat like that. Then, probably like the addicts themselves, it just went downhill and got boring and I only finished to find out what happened to the characters although I really didn’t care.
The book opens in the 1970s when the narrator first arrives in Bombay and meets some of the characters associated with a certain opium bar owned by a guy named Rashid. There is a fascinating eunuch named Dimple, who works as a prostitute and pipe maker while he remembers his past. There’s Mr. Lee, a rich old Chinese immigrant who has nothing to live for except opium dreams and Dimple. There’s Rumi who works at the opium bar and beats up on people when he’s pissed off.
Over the decades the setting, the people, the drugs all change. There’s a chapter on rehab, on churches, and finally on heroin. The narrator returns to find most all of his old buddies dead and the city totally changed.
From the Prologue:
“Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story…”
Thayil is a poet and it shows. Unfortunately, poets aren’t known for their plots but the rest of it worked fine. (LOL!)
South Asia Journal review – excellent article/review