Summary and book reviews of Animal's People by Indra Sinha

Animal's People

A Novel

By Indra Sinha

Animal's People
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2009,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

"I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet, just like a human being..."

Ever since he can remember, Animal has gone on all fours, his back twisted beyond repair by the catastrophic events of "that night" when a burning fog of poison smoke from the local factory blazed out over the town of Khaufpur, and the Apocalypse visited his slums. Now just turned seventeen and well schooled in street work, he lives by his wits, spending his days jamisponding (spying) on town officials and looking after the elderly nun who raised him, Ma Franci. His nights are spent fantasizing about Nisha, the girlfriend of the local resistance leader, and wondering what it must be like to get laid.

When Elli Barber, a young American doctor, arrives in Khaufpur to open a free clinic for the still suffering townsfolk -- only to find herself struggling to convince them that she isn't there to do the dirty work of the Kampani -- Animal gets caught up in a web of intrigues, scams, and plots with the unabashed aim of turning events to his own advantage.

Profane, piercingly honest, and scathingly funny, Animal's People illuminates a dark world shot through with flashes of joy and lunacy. A stunning tale of an unforgettable character, it is an unflinching look at what it means to be human: the wounds that never heal and a spirit that will not be quenched.

tape one

I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being.

"So sweet you were, a naughty little angel. You'd stand up on tiptoe, Animal my son, and hunt in the cupboard for food." This is the sort of thing they say. Only mostly there wasn't any food plus really it isn't people just Ma Franci who says this, she doesn't even say it that way, what she says is tu étais si charmant, comme un petit ange méchant, which is how they talk in her country, plus I'm not really her son nor any kind of angel but it's true Ma's known me all my life, which is nearly twenty years. Most people round here don't know their age, I do, because I was born a few days before that night, which no one in Khaufpur wants to remember, but nobody can forget.

"Such a beautiful little boy you were, when you were three, four, years. Huge eyes you had, black like the Upper Lake at ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. What does Animal mean when he says he "used to be human once"? What does being human mean to Animal? What does Animal believe it would take for him to "become human" again? Does Animal get his wish?
  2. Who is Khã-in-the-Jar and what does he want from Animal? What do Khã-in-the-Jar and the others like him represent for Animal? How are readers to understand and make sense of Khã-in-the-Jar?
  3. What is the significance of names in the story? How do the names of individuals and things both suggest and obscure their meaning or value? What is the significance of the book's title, Animal's People?
  4. As outsiders, both Zafar and Elli attempt to help the people of ...

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Reviews

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Animal's greatest gift, and the reason he is so sympathetic as a character, is his sense of humor. From the Western perspective, his life is awful: he must walk on all fours, he must beg for food, he believes no one will love him, and he has no opportunity to better himself. To Animal, though, his plight is merely run of the mill; in fact, it's perhaps better than most because his condition has made him special. He can run like an animal, and he has the rare ability to understand the souls of other people, something he attributes to the poison .... Sinha's tale glistens with hope and humanity. Animal's language and story float off the page until we believe that we are in fact listening to his humorous voice rather than reading it. We are left at the end, as we watch Animal saunter away, with a sense of great insight, that we have seen how the 'weak can inherit the earth' and make us all strong.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (1103 words).

Media Reviews
New Statesman (UK) - Lucy Beresfoford

From the arresting opening line of Indra Sinha's vivid second novel, the voice of Animal, the narrator, leaps out to grab you by the throat. Bawdy, irreverent and smart...Animal's People -- part coming-of-age Bildungsroman, part vicious critique of corporate terrorism -- is a bold and punchy tale.

The Observer (UK) - Soumya Bhattacharya

Compelling, heart-wrenching and laced with redemptive hope...it explores the really big issues - justice, equality, the nature of humanity - and does not once flinch from what it discovers."

The Independent - Boyd Tonkin

An extraordinary achievement. Sinha fends off all condescension with the salty and scabrous urchin's voice -- a virtuoso compound of Irvine Welsh and Salman Rushdie. Yet, for all its surface profanity, Animal's People mingles sentiment with its savagery.... [S]hould spur a new generation to find out about the foulest act of corporate homicide in modern history.

The Guardian (UK) - Kamila Shamsie

Sinha's writing is a blade gleaming in the moonlight. And the novel, for all its pain, is a work of profound humanity.

Publishers Weekly

Sinha balances big issues with an intimate depiction of life at its bleakest.

Booklist

Starred Review. [A]n antic, ribald, and searing tale of greed and heroism. Sinha's daring farce asks what it means to be human, rekindles compassion for the still uncompensated victims of the real-life catastrophe, and celebrates the resiliency of love and goodness in the poorest and most poisoned of places.

Kirkus Reviews

The plight of the world's powerless has seldom been conveyed more powerfully, while Animal is destined to be one of fiction's immortals.

Reader Reviews
Kim

My favorite of the year
This might be my favorite book of 2008. I found it to be extremely original and very entertaining. The protagonist, Animal, is one of those fictional characters you wish you knew in real life and are reluctant to leave behind once completing the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Bhopal (map) is the capital of Madhya Pradesh in central India. The violent impact of the tremendous chemical leak described in Animal's People is based on the real life chemical leak in Bhopal in 1984, which is considered to be one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

On the morning of December 3, 1984 a holding tank of stored MIC (methyl isocyanate) at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, overheated and released over 40 tonnes of the noxious gas. The gas, which is heavier than air, ...

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