cover image Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

Sujatha Gidla. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-86547-811-4

In this brilliant debut, Gidla documents the story of her resilient family and India’s modern political history. Gidla grew up in India as an untouchable, the lowest category in India’s caste system, and now works as a subway conductor in New York City. In this epic, she shares intimate stories of her uncle Satyam, a revolutionary poet and steadfast communist; her uncle Carey, a hapless yet ardent supporter of Satyam; and her mother Manjula, the core of the family’s strength. Her uncle Satyam was a political organizer within the movement that won its demand for statehood for Andhra Pradesh from former president Nehru. Gidla eloquently weaves together her family narratives with Indian politics, specifically focusing on the practices and consequences of caste inequality. The book is also a fascinating chronicle of the corruption within and political battles between India’s Congress Party and its Communist Party. Gidla is a smart and deeply sympathetic narrator who tells the lesser known history of India’s modern communist movement. The book never flags, whether covering Satyam’s political awakening as a young and poor bohemian or Manjula’s rocky marriage to a mercurial and violent man. Gidla writes about the heavy topics of poverty, caste and gender inequality, and political corruption with grace and wit. Gidla’s work is an essential contribution to contemporary Indian literature. (July)