Ants Among Elephants|Sujatha Gidla
Ants Among Elephants : An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India
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A Wall Street Journal Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2017
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2017
A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2017

Ants Among Elephants is an arresting, affecting and ultimately enlightening memoir. It is quite possibly the most striking work of non-fiction set in India since Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, and heralds the arrival of a formidable new writer. --The Economist

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 transformation from student and labor organizer to famous poet 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.

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  • ISBN-13: 9780865478114
  • ISBN-10: 0865478112
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publish Date: July 2017
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.15 pounds
  • Page Count: 320

Testament of the oppressed

The sheer immensity of India—its history, geography, politics and peoples—would be hard to condense under any circumstances, but author Sujatha Gidla, niece of the communist revolutionary hero and poet Satyamurthy, brilliantly narrows the scope by explaining the tumultuous events of 20th-century India through her own family’s strife-ridden lives. The result is Ants Among Elephants, an intense exploration of India’s caste system in all of its complexities, and the impact it continues to have in modern India.

Born an untouchable in a slum of Andhra Pradesh, Gidla explains that the role of her caste is “to labor in the fields of others or to do other work that Hindu society considers filthy.” Mingling with those not in her caste is forbidden, and doing so can result in punishment. Untouchables live highly restricted lives, and their caste status affects nearly every aspect of their existence. When, at the age of 26, Gidla moves to America, “where people know only skin color,” she realizes that her caste is now invisible and “my stories, my family’s stories, are not stories of shame.”

The lives of Gidla’s uncles and parents convulsed as their country heaved with the changing times. Sweeping through it all with a broad but enlightening brush, Gidla pauses her tale to explore moments in time with vivid, grim details about the cruelties and injustices inflicted on her caste. Her father was forced to leave his starving children in order to support them, while her mother overcame prejudices to earn advanced degrees, only to become a teacher unable to hold a job. Satyamurthy inspired Gidla’s own activism before barely escaping with his life. Today Gidla works as a subway conductor in New York, telling these stories to ensure they will continue to matter.


This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.