The book is set in Bhopal, India after the disaster; a fact which I knew before I opened it and which had put me off starting: I'd imagined it would be a sanctimonious over-worthy book full of moral principles that I agree with, and devoid of artistic merit.
How wrong I was: Sinha manages to directly tackle the truly dreadful tragedy that is Bhopal post-disaster without loading his flatbed full of pious and moral indignation. Of course there's plenty of scope for moral indignation at how Bhopalis have been treated but moral indignation rarely makes for good literature, and it won't win too many new backers to the cause.
Instead Sinha mines a trove of truly spectacular vulgarity and crudity to produce a novel that is artistically stunning, morally accurate and, at times, hilarious. My favourite quote so far:
Zafar's lot never write what they really feel which is FUCK YOU WICKED CUNTS I HOPE YOU DIE PAINFULLY FOR THE HORRIBLE THINGS YOU DID TO US AND THE ARROGANT FUCKING CRUELTY YOU'VE DISPLAYED EVER SINCE. They write high-sounding shit like JUSTICE FOR [BHOPAL] and KAMPANI MEEET YOUR LIABILITIES but in a few places freer spirits have been at work: HANG [ANDERSON] and DEATH TO AMRIKA.That's how to do it! Warran Anderson, you horrible man, read and weep.
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I want to add a little word of approval for another recent read: Aldous Huxley's Island. As a novel it's not the finest - Huxley himself said it was too ideas-heavy - but the philosophising which weighs it down is also intriguing and inspiring.
Perhaps what is best about the book is the unashamed idealism with which it is filled. Who's idealistic these days? We're all so damned cool, the ultimate accessory a sigh of world-weary amused detachment.
The man Aldous is having none of it. He's dreaming of a world where Mahayana Buddhism informs the spiritual practices of a meditating, contemplative populace; where magic mushrooms expand the mind in rituals of spiritual exploration; where children are shared between multiple parents; where manual labour is a part of everybody's daily life; and so on and so on. It's a great vision and kudos to him for sharing it. I'm inspired.