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The Book of Chocolate Saints

Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil’s follow-up to his bestselling Man Booker-shortlisted debut Narcopolis is a strange and beautiful hymn to the artistic life lived fearlessly.

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‘Easily the most original and formally inventive novel to come out of India in years.’ Salman Rushdie, Guardian

Francis Newton Xavier has lived a wild existence of excess in pursuit of his uncompromising aesthetic vision. His paintings and poems – which embody the flamboyant and decadent jeu d’esprit of his heroes like Baudelaire – have forged his reputation, which is to be celebrated at a new show in Delhi.

Approaching middle age in a body ravaged by hard-living, Xavier leaves Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks with his young girlfriend – and his journey home to India becomes a delirious voyage into the past. From his formative years with an infamous school offin de siècle Bombay poets – as documented by his biographer, Diswas, in these pages – Xavier must move forward into an uncertain future of salvation or damnation.

His story results in The Book of Chocolate Saints: an epic novel of contemporary Indian life that probes the mysterious margins where art bleeds into the occult, and celebrates the artist’s life itself as a final monument. It is Jeet Thayil’s spiritual, passionate, and demented masterpiece.

Critic Reviews

This novel is a rich harvest; it moves with the strange and flawless certainty of a dream ... It is superbly written, and its madness is also its strength.

Edna O'Brien
Critic Reviews

The most original, formally adventurous and captivating novel to come out of India in a long time.

Critic Reviews

That rare thing, a recondite entertainment of the first order, bearing news that stays news of the international man with his roots in India, of art as meaning and transaction, of indulgence and existential dread, madness and loneliness, love and loss. In its range of topics and sweep of time, Saints is epic, but Thayil packs every line full of wit and wonder. I really loved this book.

Critic Reviews

An ambitious and often thrilling addition to contemporary Indian literature . . . A rich, languourous and seductive saga . . . The rich, heady poetry here leaves readers little choice but to surrender.

Critic Reviews

Having learned from Borges and Nabokov that the preposterous is hugely more entertaining than mere absurdity, Jeet Thayil delights not just in pushing the bounds of possibility, but in smashing them to smithereens ... A Citizen Kane-style inquiry ... There is, in short, a daringly poetic agenda to this novel, whose appreciation of the undertow of everyday life easily matches that of its brilliant predecessor, Narcopolis, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2012. What marks The Book of Chocolate Saints out as an unmissable read, however, is its concern not just with the more entertaining aspects of human behaviour – the sinful, the grotesque and the preposterous – but also with what is, or could be, holy in our works.

John Burnside
Critic Reviews

'A big, exuberant, explosive novel . . . The same rattling pace, huge ambition and enormous cast of characters [as Narcopolis].’

Critic Reviews

Exuberant but melancholic, Thayil's sprawling polyphony salutes the daring – and counts the cost – of bohemian lives pushed to the edge of martyrdom.

Boyd Tonkin
Critic Reviews

Scathing and witty about whitewashing and sainthood in the literary world. . . A profound and often very funny meditation on worship, representation and reality.

Critic Reviews

With its cast of dissolute, feuding poets and metafictional gameplay, The Book of Chocolate Saints inevitably recalls Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. Yet there is nothing secondary or derivative about Thayil’s novel. On the contrary, it is dense, dazzling and ferociously intelligent. As in Narcopolis, the author’s command of language is frequently virtuosic in both its range and versatility, able to vault from character to character and shift seamlessly from carefully observed realism to the high-octane rush of words and images that dominate its latter half. . . A remarkable achievement, bursting with energy, ideas and an appetite for risk-taking that is too rare in contemporary fiction.

Critic Reviews

’Every sentence in this book is a feast. . . a gluttonous surfeit of good writing’

Critic Reviews

Thayil’s ambitious, wide-ranging and utterly contemporary novel is particularly notable for its reflections on poetry and fiction. As the author amply demonstrates, one of the novel’s strengths as a genre is its sociabillity, its being in and of the world: magpie, multiple, dependent.

Critic Reviews

Fiction that draws deeply on reality. A journalist tries to reconstruct the life and times of Newton Francis Xavier, one of the Bombay poets who stopped writing poetry and became a legendary painter instead. Newton is closely modelled on Moraes and the artist FN?Souza (Thayil knew them both), and their group of poets is drawn with unsparing, critical affection.

Nilanjana Roy
Critic Reviews

In the swooningly hypnotic prose for which his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel was acclaimed, Jeet Thayil paints a hallucinatory portrait of an ambiguous soul: a self-destructive figure, a charismatic contrarian, and a tortured damned artist battling with his conflicting instincts. Vividly set in both Delhi and Manhattan, The Book of Chocolate Saints explores our deepest urges in a novel that is both dangerous and entirely uncompromising.

Critic Reviews

A fantastic and detailed account of this really lively literary moment. . . captures this moment of extraordinary energy and vitality in Indian poetry.

Critic Reviews

‘Thayil’s ambitious, wide-ranging and utterly contemporary novel is particularly notable for its reflections on poetry and fiction. As the author amply demonstrates, one of the novel’s strengths as a genre is its sociabillity, its being in and of the world: magpie, multiple, dependent.’


Jeet Thayil was born in Kerala, India in 1959 and educated in Hong Kong, New York and Bombay. He is a songwriter and guitarist, and has published four collections of poetry. He is the editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (2008). He currently lives in New Delhi.

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