Animal's People

A Novel

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About The Book

In this Booker-shortlisted novel, Indra Sinha’s profane, furious, and scathingly funny narrator delivers an unflinching look at what it means to be human.

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.

Reading Group Guide

Animal’s People
Indra Sinha

Description

Animal’s People translates a series of taped recordings of a story told by a nineteen-year old boy named Animal from the Indian city of Khaufpur. Named Animal for the deformed and misshapen spine that causes him to navigate his world using both his arms and legs, he and his city are forever shaped by the chemical disaster they all refer to only as ‘that night’. Animal invites us on his journey of self-discovery and self-reclamation as he recounts the significant incidents and people that come into and change his life during his 19th year. Animal resists playing the victim as he attacks his life with zeal and bravado as he relentlessly pursues Nisha, the object of his affection, defies his rival for her affection by pursuing a friendship with an American doctor his city has sworn to hate and strives to secure his dream of someday walking on two legs. Brutally honest, unexpected funny, starkly unapologetic, and always provocative, Sinha turns a global tragedy on its head as he reveals the personal and even parochial human concerns and joys that co-exist with even the harshest political and economic realities of life.   
 

Questions and Topics for Discussion

  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 Kha-in-the-Jar and what does he want from Animal? What do Kha-in-the-Jar and the others like him represent for Animal? How are readers to understand and make sense of Kha-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 Khaufpur. Compare and contrast their approaches. What are the cost and benefits of each? To whom did you find yourself most sympathetic? Why?
     
  5. What does Animal mean when he says that time does not exist for the poor? Why must all things be “now o’clock”? 
     
  6. Who or what is Kampani? What does Zafar’s dream and Elli’s confessions reveal about Kampani?
     
  7. Animal, Ma Franci, and Zafar conceive of “that night” and its repercussions in unique and specific ways. Detail how each understands and makes sense of the events of “that night” and why the disaster occurred. How do each believe “that night” should be resolved for the people of Khaufpur?  To whom do you find yourself in most agreement? Why?
  8. What happened during the night of the factory fire? What is the significance of the mysterious woman clad in burka with a broom? What parts did Animal, Ma Franci and others play in that fateful event? What did the fire mean for the community, for Animal? What role will it play for them in the future?
  9. To what do Elli, Animal, and Somraji’s discussion of music and its relationship to promises refer? What do the music and promises metaphors tell us? What do they tell Animal? Do these metaphors continue to resonate for Animal at the end of his tale? Why or why not?
  10.   Animal’s People has been quoted as a book that “one that has its roots in unspeakable tragedy, but manages to stay upbeat, darkly funny and utterly devoid of self-pity.”  Do you agree with this statement?  Discuss some of the key elements of the story that valid/invalidate this claim.  

    Tips to Enhance Your Bookclub

  11. Read Further

    Explore the world Indra Sinha has created by visiting the website of the fictional town of Khaufpur at http://www.khaufpur.com/index.html. Book club leaders should ask book club members to explore the website, especially the interview with the lead character, Animal on page http://www.khaufpur.com/animalinterview.html
    1. Why do you believe the author has crafted such a website?
    2. Has the website altered your understanding or appreciation of the novel?  If yes, how so? If no, why not?
    3. What questions would you pose to Animal? How do you believe he would respond to them?
    4. If you could be like Elli and offer a service that would be advertised on this site, what would you offer to the city of Khaufpur?  Provide a sample of your Ad for the group
  12. Take Action - Donate
Book club leaders can visit http://www.indrasinha.com/sunil-bhai.html to access Indra Sinha’s tribute to Sunil Kumar, his inspiration for the character of Animal.

Print a copy of the tribute and distribute it to members of the book club. You may discuss the following with the group:

a.       What are the parallels that exist between Sunil and Animal’s story?

b.      Does Sunil’s end impact your appreciation of Sinha’s telling of the story?

The tribute sheet has a donation form attached. Encourage book club members to collect and bring donations to the meeting and complete one donation form in the name of the book club and send in all donations in the name of the book club.

  1. Investigate the real event- “That Night”

    What is the real event that inspired Sinha’s portrait of Khaufpur? http://www.bhopal.org/whathappened.html
     

About The Author

Dan Sinha

Indra Sinha was born in India. His work of non-fiction, The Cybergypsies, and his first novel, The Death of Mr Love, met with widespread critical acclaim. He lives in France.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 2009)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416578796

Raves and Reviews

"Animal's People is raw, furious, and utterly compelling. Indra Sinha is a brave writer, and he's produced a novel of great power." -- Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

"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." -- Lucy Beresfoford, New Statesman

"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." -- Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"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." -- Soumya Bhattacharya, The Observer

"I was absolutely bowled over by [Animal's People]. It is brilliant. In the narrator, Animal, Sinha's created a character who's as original and memorable in his own way as Holden Caulfield -- funny, profane, witty, touching and immensely appealing." -- John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"A double triumph for Sinha: The plight of the world's powerless has seldom been conveyed more powerfully, while Animal is destined to be one of fiction's immortals." -- Kirkus Reviews

"[A]n antic, ribald, and searing tale of greed and heroismÉ.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." -- Booklist (starred review)

"Sinha's writing is a blade gleaming in the moonlight. And the novel, for all its pain, is a work of profound humanity." -- Kamila Shamsie, The Guardian

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