It's difficult to fully conceive of the privilege and power of the caste system from a foreigner's perspective; from the viewpoint of people so low on the system that they stand outside of its levels, it's a mesmerizing horror to behold, and author Sujatha Gidla spares no detail ... With her luminous command of fine details, Gidla manages a difficult and admirable task: she takes a tremendously personal memoir and renders it with such clarity that it tells the broader story of a place and an era ... the humanity that Gidla gives to her subjects – many of whom are her own flesh and blood – keeps the book from sinking into a mire. Instead, the reader is given sharply observed fragments taken from life, observed and rendered with a gimlet eye.
Ants Among Elephants gives readers an unsettling and visceral understanding of how discrimination, segregation and stereotypes have endured throughout the second half of the 20th century and today ... Although Gidla’s account of her uncle’s political activities — from his student days through his life in the Communist underground — can grow tangled for the reader unfamiliar with Indian politics, she writes with quiet, fierce conviction, zooming in to give us sharply drawn, Dickensian portraits of relatives, friends and acquaintances, and zooming out to give us snapshots of entire villages, towns and cities ... In these pages, she has told those family stories and, in doing so, the story of how ancient prejudices persist in contemporary India, and how those prejudices are being challenged by the disenfranchised.
By the time you finish reading Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants — and again I’ll offer a wager: If you start her book, you will finish her book — your appreciation of the Indian caste system will have become finely tuned ... This is a real story, ringing true, told with wide-eyed wonder, and it invites you right into the family, to be a familiar, to understand ... Gidla is our Virgil into the world of the untouchables and their acts of defiance; not just as an observer, but as a participant.