20. Pearl Ruled: [NARCOPOLIS] by [[JEET THAYIL]]Rating: 3* of five (p129)The Book Description: Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul. Written in Thayil’s poetic and affecting prose, Narcopolis charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis.Narcopolis opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city’s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city’s underbelly has become ever rawer. Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives. Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty—at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka-wearing identity.After a long absence, the narrator returns in 2004 to find a very different Bombay. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed. My Review: I am really sorry I read this book immediately after The Yellow Birds wrung me out, shook me wrinkle-free, and threw me in the dryer on the “Sahara in the Summer” setting. I didn't have it to give. There's a weird and wonderful book in here. I am too tired to go look for it.I lost the will to live in the book's world at the end of book two, “The Story of the Pipe.” Actually, I lost it on p125:Dimple made Rashid's pipe the way she always did, calm and silent, her hands steady, while the tai drank her tea, made her speech, and left. That afternoon, Rashid took Dimple to a room on a half landing between the khana and the first floor, where his family lived. There was a wooden cot, a chair and washstand, a window with a soiled curtain. She knew what he wanted. She took off her salvaar and folded it on the back of the chair. She lay on the cot and puller her kameez up to her shoulders to show him her breasts. Her legs were open, the ridged skin stretched like a ghost vagina.He said, you're like a woman. She said, I am a woman, see for yourself.(p125, US hardcover edition)*ping The tolerance timer went off. Dimple, you see, is a eunuch, not a woman, and I am sorry if it offends, but mens is mens and gurlz is gurlz in my universe, no matter they say they're not.Transphobic of me, I suppose. I'd remind those who coined that term for us'ns who don't like to make that particular leap of the fact that there is no obvious link between same-sex sexual attraction and gender dysphoria. I am not unhappy I am a man, I am delighted by it; and having experienced the very meager joys of heterosexuality (out of bed, in bed's perfectly adequate if predictable and unexciting), I am rapturously homosexual. I don't see how this in any conceivable (!) way aligns me with some poor person who knows with every fiber of his/her being that the genitals on the body they're in aren't the correct ones for his/her inner truth.No one seems prepared to do more than snort angrily at me when I say this. Explanations aren't forthcoming. So I steam along like the QEII, big and old-fashioned and terribly behind the times.C'est ma vie.So these factors combine to make this well-written and most interesting story a non-starter for me. In another mood, perhaps I would've gone with it and found its unique beauties more positively interesting and less snort-and-eyeroll inducing. Considering how very many books there are awaiting my attention, I suspect I won't be coming back to this one.