"The world of humans is meant to be viewed from eye level. Your eyes. Lift my head I'm staring into someone's crotch. Whole nother world it's."

The title character of Animal's People was a normal boy until a chemical disaster twisted his back, forcing him into a permanent crawl. Now a young man, he travels the slums and back alleys of Khaufpur, India on all fours, scamming and begging his way from meal to meal. He calls himself Animal, and that's what he claims he is; not a human, but a beast, without the responsibilities of a real person. While his friends debate how to make the company whose toxins stunted Animal's growth pay for its crimes against the poisoned and dying of the city, Animal plots ways to get laid and struggles with the hope that maybe, just maybe, he might someday stand on his own two feet.


First-person novels live and die by the strength of their narrators, and Animal is as strong as they come. Dictating his tale onto a tape "mashin," he fills page after page with loopy, fidgety prose; it's a bravura performance that combines J.D. Salinger-like awkwardness with Salman Rushdie's profane wit. The first half of Animal's People is a rambling account of Animal's dealings with the resistance and his more down-to-earth relationships with local merchants and beggars, and while some plot threads are effective—like the conflict of an American doctor trying to bring aid to people well-schooled in mistrust—others, like Animal's perpetual horniness, occasionally wear out their welcome. But the story picks up momentum as it goes, and the last hundred pages build to a moving, phantasmagorical climax.

Inspired by the real-life 1984 Union Carbide disaster that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, Indra Sinhra describes a place where corporate greed has permanently changed the course of an entire community, where people's health, hopes, and even figures of speech revolve around a court case that shows no signs of ever resolving. But it's less about victimhood than a culture's ability to adapt to just about anything to stay alive. As one character says, Animal and the citizens of Khaufpur have the invincible "power of nothing;" they can't be defeated, because they have nothing to lose, and they'll win in the end, since they have everything to gain.