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.
In India, Gidla was influenced by tales of her uncle, the Dalit revolutionary, poet and Naxalite leader KG Satyamurthy, who was like a cinema hero to her. At 14, she was a radical; by the age of 16, she had joined the People’s War Group, which pledged to wage armed struggle; and as a college student, she was imprisoned and tortured for some months … The honesty with which Gidla shines the light on her own family is rare in Indian writing … Ants Among Elephants is resonant with ‘stories worth telling, stories worth writing down’ — one of the most significant, and haunting, books about India you’ll read.