In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to England, his villainously shaped skull there to be studied. Only Ali knows just how embroidered his story is, so when a killer begins depriving London’s underclass of their heads, suspicion naturally falls on the “thug.” With help from fellow immigrants led by a shrewd Punjabi woman, Ali journeys deep into a hostile city in an attempt to save himself and end the gruesome murders.
Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels a ghostly people call home, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins or Michael Chabon. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this sly Victorian role reversal marks the arrival of a compelling new Indian novelist to North America.
About Tabish Khair
Tabish Khair is an award-winning poet, journalist, critic, educator and novelist. A citizen of India, he lives in Denmark and teaches literature at Aarhus University.
Set largely in 1830s London—a locale Khair reassembles using a witty pastiche of details from Dickens, Wilkie Collins and others—the novel centers on Amir Ali. Ali has come to England as a combination of refugee, research subject and mascot. He serves his condescending sponsor, Capt. William Meadows, by pretending to be a reformed member of the infamous Thugees. Meadows, a smug advocate of the powers of phrenology to reveal character traits, is writing a book about Amir called Notes on a Thug. The novel offers a wide variety of source-texts: snippets from Meadows’ preposterous work of literary ventriloquism, in which Amir sings flowery praises to the Englishman’s superior intellect, superior customs, superior God; Amir’s secret notes in Farsi script to his illiterate beloved, Jenny; scandal-sheet newspaper stories; meditations by a present-day narrator who purports to have found Amir’s papers in his grandfather’s library and to be embroidering them into this novel. A mystery emerges, a twist on the actual case of William Burke, the “resurrection man” who, along with an accomplice, smothered street people in order to deliver their bodies to a surgeon who needed cadavers to study. In Khair’s reimagining, someone is decapitating—and stealing the heads of—victims, many of them immigrants. Suspicion falls on Amir, who feels complicit, as if his made-up stories about foreign evil at large have conjured a real-world form. Eventually, the case has to be solved, not by the bumbling office-bound authorities, who perceive the world through a scrim of racism and civilization that blinds them, but by an informal community of street folk led by a Punjabi woman, Qui Hy. Khair’s style is nimble, and his investigations into the nature of identity are compelling. But the mystery loses momentum and sputters out—finally, Khair isn’t as interested in it as he is in his (convincing, but not subtle or surprising) allegory about the racism and atrocity of colonialism. – Kirkus Reviews
Vile Bodies - ‘The Thing About Thugs,’ by Tabish Khair
The New York Times Book Review – September 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
“The Thing About Thugs” is an odd confection of a novel, set mostly in what looks like late-Victorian London. The streets are gaslit. The underworld teems with the flotsam of empire: lascars, Irishmen and so on, the undesirables of many nations. The city is overwhelmed with crime and prostitution and an influx of immigrants. Opium dens abound. And a serial killer is on the loose. Known as the “head cannibal,” he decapitates his victims after murdering them, but the heads are never found. The Metropolitan Police are baffled, as they were by Jack the Ripper, active in 1888, who also desecrated the bodies of his victims. Meanwhile, characters with names like One-Eyed Jack make shady deals in low taverns, and at the dinner tables of the upper classes Darwinian ideas are hotly debated. It feels as if we’re in the disillusioned twilight of the 19th century, but our narrator — or one of our narrators — sitting in his grandfather’s library “surrounded by Dickens and Collins,” claims that his story is set in 1837, the year Victoria ascended to the throne.
This is an anachronism. But the author, Tabish Khair, seems to relish his plot’s liberation from the more rigorous conventions of historical fiction. In his disregard for the proprieties, he’s like some of the characters he’s created in these bizarre but lively pages. For in his plotting, he scavenges so much material from so many different sources that his book at times resembles Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, its bits and pieces barely held together with coarse stitching. [Read the full article...]
QUEEN OF MISFORTUNE A Lady Jane Grey Novel by Peter Carroll
A Love Story of Shakespearean Dimension!
Queen Of Misfortune is the fictional story of Lady Jane Grey as told by her beloved tutor, John Aylmer. At the time of her execution a stranger is recorded to have assisted her when, blind folded, she lost her way upon the scaffold. Was it the same strange who was also recorded to have visited her when she was imprisoned in the Tower? Little is known of this unfortunate girl who was beheaded for treason in the 16th Century. She was only 16. She is omitted from the list of monarchs but was actually queen for nine days. Author Peter Carroll, in his novel, follows John Aylmer’s close relationship with Jane as her tutor and later, as she grows up, her lover. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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