“Animal” is a 19-year old Indian boy who was disfigured as a result of a chemical plant explosion in his town when he was a small boy. The disaster caused his spine to become bent in such a manner that Animal is forced to walk on all fours. Since both his parents died in the incident, Animal is raised by nuns in an orphanage and also spends a good deal of time earning a living by running scams on the streets of Khaufpur.
My story has to start with that night. I don’t remember anything about it, though I was there, nevertheless, it’s where my story has to start. When something big like that night happens, time divides into before and after, the before time breaks up into dreams, the dreams dissolve into darkness. That’s how it is here. All the world knows the name of Khaufpur, but no one knows how things were before those nights.
“Animal” makes for an interesting if sometimes frustrating narrator. The text is full of his colorful language. Animal tells his story in a mix of English, Hindi, and French. His English and French are sometimes phonetically interpreted versions of the real word…for example he refers to spying on people as “jamisponding”, which he got from “James Bond”-ing. (don’t worry, if you don’t know any Hindi, there is a glossary in the back of the book). Just as Animal struggles with life in the aftermath of the disaster, the whole city struggles. There are major health and poverty issues throughout the city. Many of the people Animal interacts with lost loved ones after the explosion or have had negative health impacts.
“Animal’s People” is a fictional story based on the real Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India in 1984. The book is full of tragedy but has a good dose of black humor woven throughout. The book is a gritty read that will definitely leave a mark on you.
I recommend this book to people who enjoyed any of Salman Rushdie’s books or A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Read with caution though if you are turned off by crude language and lewd thoughts or if you don’t enjoy books with lots of foreign words in the narrative.
“Animal’s People” was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize and was also listed as one of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.