This book was shortlisted for Booker Prize 2007. Thanks to Booker, people are aware of this book and it has not gone unnoticed. I had heard good reviews about this book and many people even predicted this book will win. That is a compliment for the book and reason enough for me to pick it up.
The story is based on the Bhopal gas tragedy. The author has chosen to set his book in Khaufpur, a fictitious city, the name describing the effect of the incident. The narrator is Animal, one of the many victims of the incident ‘that night’. He is speaking into a ‘tape mashin’ (machine) left behind by a ‘Jarnalis’ (journalist). The victims of Khaufpur live with the hope of getting justice one day, in the form of compensation from Kampani, the factory which leaked poisonous gas that fateful day.
Animal is thus named because of his bent back. He walks on four and hence no longer consider himself a human. With mangled sentences and words (namisbond, jamisbond), it takes a while to get used to the book. Sinha peppers the whole book with enough swearing and cursing to an extent that it got on my nerves. Sinha tries hard to maintain the tension and tone, but wavers a bit in the later chapters.
The author weaves in other threads in the book. Elli and her sacrifices, Zafar and his ideologies, Nisha and her emotions, Somraj and his helplessness, and of course, Animal and his ‘heavy monster’.
The book is heavy, literally and figuratively. This book does not attempt at showcasing the poverty stricken, sympathy seeking India. There is one paragraph where Animal justifies India and its position to Elli. I think every foreigner should read this paragraph and hope some will change their outlook of India.
Kudos to Sinha for refreshing our memory by writing about the gas tragedy which has altered many lives and somehow has not been taken seriously enough.