Nacropolis – Jeet Thayil


A story set over three decades about a Bombay opium den and the diverse cast of characters who frequent it.

© “The main character in Narcopolis is Rashid who owns an opium house in Bombay. We meet him first in the 1970s, entertaining a variety of guests with pipes prepared by a eunuch called Dimple. Over time Rashid moves from opium to heroin, then cocaine becomes popular.

The book is written in a meditative, dream-like style, narrating not only the story of Rashid and the opium den but also the lives of those who frequent it as they recall their pasts in clear drug-induced reminiscence. This includes a former soldier who tells of fleeing communist China in the late 1940s,  as well as bohemians and hippies living in the moment.

The people, their stories and their woes are indicative of the state of the world outside the opium doors. The politics, addictions, poverty, conflict and relationships of the outside world are replicated indoors on a micro scale. As the city thrives, plummets and changes, so too does the business within the opium den.

Because now there’s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I’ll have to stop, these are night-time tales that vanish in the sunlight like vampire dust.

The book contains a combination of events, both real and imagined and is quite addictive and soothing in itself. Thayil has said he lost 20 years of his life to addiction and while that is of course a travesty, this book does demonstrate the difference between a book written from experience and one written from research. Rache recommends not rushing this one. Suzy says let yourself go and be prepared to be taken along on the ride.


Published 2012
Penguin Books
304 pages

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