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 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
- 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