Lyrical, poignant and pensive; challenging for its abundant Indian-isms (“She told only one girak that she was leaving, a...

NARCOPOLIS

A tightly packed saga, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, of drug-ruled lives in the back streets of Mumbai, which longtime resident (and former addict) Thayil insists on calling Bombay.

Do not call him Ishmael, though he is a castoff and exile. Of the narrator of this descent into the subcontinental demimonde, we know little, at least at first: A disembodied voice says, “since I’m the one telling it and you don’t know who I am, let me say that we’ll get to the who of it but not right now...these are nighttime tales that vanish in sunlight, like vampire dust.” Very well, then. The vampires in question are the denizens of opium dens and brothels in the megacity’s back alleys, along roads choked with feces and animal corpses, with the “poor and deranged.” The time is the 1970s, drifting into later decades, and the narrative spotlight soon falls on one such resident, Dimple, a girlish eunuch who, having grown up in a brothel, is now both a prostitute and a sort of moral center; more important, Dimple expertly packs the opium pipes that are consumed in Rashid’s den, sucked up by an avid clientele. As time goes on, the cast of characters enlarges: One of particular interest is a Chinese exile, Mr. Lee, who has had a dangerous falling out with a prominent leader back home but wants nothing more than to return there, whether alive or otherwise. As time goes on, too, pipes give way to needles, and the city changes its tenor as the drug diet changes, never for the good. Asks Dimple: “Tell me why Chemical is freely available when there are no tomatoes in the market.” The answer: “Because...the city belongs to the politicians and the crooks and some of the politicians are more crooked than the most crooked of the crooks.” Few come into that dark corner of the world willingly, Thayil lets us know, and few ever leave.

Lyrical, poignant and pensive; challenging for its abundant Indian-isms (“She told only one girak that she was leaving, a pocket maar who always smoked at her station.”) but also for its moral bleakness.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-330-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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