A young man sits in an old house in an ancient town in Phansa, India. It is his grandfather's house and, though it is no longer anyone's home, it is alive with memories and stories. In one of his grandfather's books, he finds sheets of letters, written over a hundred years earlier, by a man named Amir Ali. The young man, our principal narrator, tells us what Amir Ali wrote, and tries to fill in the gaps to provide the rest of the story.
Amir Ali is a young man in India when he meets Captain William Meadows, an enthusiast of phrenology (the notion that skull shapes and measurements reveal intelligence and even character). Because of certain events affecting his family, Amir Ali spins a yarn for Meadows, telling Meadows that Amir was a member of the notorious Thuggee Cult, a band of cutthroat murderers, but has now seen the light of the reason and morality brought by the British to the lowly Indians. Meadows is persuaded to take Amir back to London with him, where Meadows exhibits Amir to various scientific society meetings and takes down Amir's long Thug story for the book Meadows is writing, titled Notes on a Thug.* Meadows is anxious to use Amir as a weapon in his war against his chief phrenological rival, Lord Batterstone, whose ideas are far more extreme.
Amir is a thoughtful and appealing hero, and the depiction of his love story with Jenny and friendship with his motley crew of compatriots is heartfelt and memorable.
Congratulations to Tabish Khair on this genre-bending, colorful novel.
The Thing About Thugs will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on July 24, 2012.
Note: I received a free review copy of The Thing About Thugs.