Ants Among Elephants

Ants Among Elephants

An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

Book - 2017 | First edition
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"The stunning true story of an untouchable family who become teachers, and one, a poet and revolutionary. Like one in six people in India, Sujatha Gidla was born an untouchable. While most untouchables are illiterate, her family was educated by Canadian missionaries in the 1930s, making it possible for Gidla to attend elite schools and move to America at the age of twenty-six. It was only then that she saw how extraordinary--and yet how typical--her family history truly was. Her mother, Manjula, and uncles Satyam and Carey were born in the last days of British colonial rule. They grew up in a world marked by poverty and injustice, but also full of possibility. In the slums where they lived, everyone had a political side, and rallies, agitations, and arrests were commonplace. The Independence movement promised freedom. Yet for untouchables and other poor and working people, little changed. Satyam, the eldest, switched allegiance to the Communist Party. Gidla recounts his incredible life--how he became a famous poet, student, labor organizer, and founder of a left-wing guerrilla movement. And Gidla charts her mother's battles with caste and women's oppression. Page by page, Gidla takes us into a complicated, close-knit family as they desperately strive for a decent life and a more just society. A moving portrait of love, hardship, and struggle, Ants Among Elephants is also that rare thing: a personal history of modern India told from the bottom up"--
Publisher: New York :, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,, 2017
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780865478114
Branch Call Number: 305.568809225 GID


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Apr 01, 2018

I came back from a trip to Northern India a month ago. We saw lots of fascinating sites, and heard about changes in modern India, especially in the cities, but I wanted to learn more about the social cultural dynamics of the people. The title of this book fascinated me so I checked out the kindle edition from my library.

It started out talking about the author's family and growing up as an untouchable. She also focused on the need to interview as many people as possible while still alive and coherent. While she felt that she didn't accomplish what she wanted, she still learned an amazing amount!

I was fascinated that her family was not historically classified as untouchable but because of their lack of classification (one needs to read the book to understand that), they became untouchable.

Caste is still very strong in rural areas of India and each state (which is like a separate country in itself) has its own dynamics.

The author's main focus was on her uncle who early in life became a communist and then part of the Maoist faction. she strongly communicates how the higher caste, more well-to-do in the movement assume much more power than those "below" them. Gidla's mother is referred to regularly in the second half of the book, but it took me a while to recognize that was her mother....and all of the desperate means the family went through to survive.

The author has quite a story to tell. She tells it in a very unsentimental way...almost understating the horrors. The book was choppy. With some help, she can become a powerful voice in writing. I hope she writes more about her own story of growing up including her coming to America and her perceptions of life here.

Nov 29, 2017

What a perfect title for a book about the untouchables of India. At times the story was too detailed for me, but I came away with an appreciation of how communism was attractive to untouchables, the different levels of untouchables, and how hard it is for the caste system to end.

NFreaderNWPL Nov 18, 2017

An eloquent family memoir combining an almost comic style of quickly-flowing anecdotes with intensity of purpose in exposing the workings of the caste system. The last hundred pages or so are particularly strong, contrasting the revolutionary life of the author's uncle with her mother's daily struggle as caste prejudice churns her in and out of various teaching positions and the deeply-ingrained misogyny of her extended family reduces her home life to a hardscrabble existence.

Read an excerpt from the book, including an explanation for North American readers of how caste works:

Sep 23, 2017

I recommend this book highly. It provides valuable insight into the Indian caste system and the culture of another society. Most Americans no little or nothing about other countries so it is important for that reason alone. It is it is painful to read about so much suffering but it is good that we know about it. Every high school student should be required to read it.

Sep 17, 2017

This is an important book to read for the insights it gives into the Indian caste system which, to me, seems so similar to American racism in the 1920's (but race is most certainly not the issue). Discrimination by higher caste members dictates where Indians can live, go to school, get jobs, and who can be their friends.

That said, I found this book difficult to read because the characters lead such unremittingly desperate lives (poverty, starvation, and abuse of many kinds). I am glad I read this book, but it was not a "fun" read.

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