Indra Sinha | Animal’s People

book_animal.jpgSinha interlaces the touching story of life in the aftermath with a biting social commentary that is best described as a painfully honest and sometimes morbidly humorous look at the imbalance of society.

 

 

 

 

 

Simon & Schuster; 374 pages; $25

Even in his picture on the dustjacket, Indra Sinha resembles a half-Indian Ernest Hemingway. Elements of tragedy and dark humor find their marriage in Animal’s People, a sobering stocktaking of humanity centered in the fictional town of Khafpur, India. The story is told in the monologue of Animal, a modern-day Quasimodo who walks on all fours as a result of his exposure to an industrial accident at a chemical plant. In a book based on the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, Sinha interlaces the touching story of life in the aftermath with a biting social commentary that is best described as a painfully honest and sometimes morbidly humorous look at the imbalance of society.

The brilliance of the narration is augmented by the apparent sophistication behind several of the characters. Animal himself shows signs of his own intelligence with a penchant for languages (he has the ability to learn French within a few months by speaking with a single person who is fluent) and his uncanny ability to read people and divulge their thoughts out of his own profound knowledge of human nature. There is as well a definite theme of personal evolution for most of the figures in the book. From the beginning, the reader is led to believe that Animal is somewhat of a misanthrope, who after growing up on the streets and earning his keep through con games can only name self interest as his life philosophy. By the end of the narration he has grown to understand that a symbiosis with the community is more beneficial to all, including himself.

The immense duality of premises in the novel is illustrated by Sinha’s ability to tell two stories at once. There is the microcosm of the relationships the main character shares which mold him into a different animal and introduce his personal struggles with community, sex, romance and religion, coupled with the macrocosm of the people’s struggle to find justice for the unresolved disaster of what is referred to as the Kampani (the unnamed "company").

What truly sets this novel apart from others is the wonderful way in which the narrator expresses himself to the reader regarding each individual ingredient of the plot. Animal’s use of words to describe the disaster — "When something big like that night happens, time divides into before and after…" — and things more personal such as love — "Once you’ve seen it in someone’s face it’s always there, I won’t say beauty, but whatever you call the thing you might call love" — and a myriad of other elements is stunning, making it impossible to not like him regardless of whether or not he is being ugly at a particular moment of his story.

From the beginning, Sinha grasps the reader’s sensibilities and cause laughter as well as dread, levity alongside introspection, and empathy mixed into sympathy. The voice of Animal is sarcastic and selfish but also winsome, generous and charming, and the fire and ice of the incredible story is evidence of the author’s own genius. Animal’s People is a masterpiece of changing moods and variable morals. | Jason Neubauer

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