The Sly Company of People Who Care

A Novel

Rahul Bhattacharya


In flight from the tame familiarity of home in Bombay, a twenty-six-year-old cricket journalist chucks his job and arrives in Guyana, a forgotten colonial society of raw, mesmerizing beauty. Amid beautiful, decaying wooden houses in Georgetown, on coastal sugarcane plantations, and in the dark rainforest interior scavenged by diamond hunters, he grows absorbed with the fantastic possibilities of this new place where descendants of the enslaved and indentured have made a new world. Ultimately, to fulfill his purpose, he prepares to mount an adventure of his own. His journey takes him beyond Guyanese borders, and his companion will be the feisty, wild-haired Jan.

In this dazzling novel, propelled by a singularly forceful voice, Rahul Bhattacharya captures the heady adventures of travel, the overheated restlessness of youth, and the paradoxes of searching for life’s meaning in the escape from home.

The Sly Company of People Who Care is the winner of the 2012 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the 2011 Hindu Literary Prize. It was shortlisted for 2011 The Man Asian Literary Prize and the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize, and was selected as a Kansas City Star Best Fiction Book of the Year and a Kirkus Best Fiction Book of the Year.


Read an Excerpt

PART ONE1LIFE, as we know, is a living, shrinking affair, and somewhere down the line I became taken with the idea that man and his world should be renewed on a daily basis. Those days I liked thinking in absolutes – life, man, the world – but people like to be specific about things. Hence, my actions were a little difficult to explain. To be a slow ramblin’ stranger! It made perfect sense to me.I still had to make friends, and my first one was Mr Bhombal, a waterworks technician. Mr Bhombal was, like me, an Indian national. Bhombal was his first name, yet I took to calling him


Praise for The Sly Company of People Who Care

“Exuberant and often arresting… It's impossible, reading Bhattacharya, not to be reminded of V.S. Naipaul.” —Dinaw Mengestu, The New York Times Book Review


“Bhattacharya’s gift for reproducing the rhythms and intricacies of his characters’ speech…places him in the company of Mark Twain. He understands the world by listening to it.” —The New Yorker


“A deft synthesis of travelogue and bildungsroman, by turns antic and introspective...so satisfying." —The Wall Street Journal


“Bhattacharya’s voice is thick with bizarre humor, poetic pidgin, and images lush with faraway magic.” The Washington Post


The Sly Company of People Who Care is a travel novel that reads like award-winning journalism . . . From the novel’s very first line, we know we’re in the care of a narrator unmatched in his lyricism and sensitivity.” —Alice Gregory, The Boston Globe


“So original and spirited, so thrillingly alive . . .An exhilarating first novel.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune


“A love letter to Guyana . . . The Sly Company of People Who Care is beautifully written and brims with charm . . . Fascinating.” —Financial Times (London)


“Bhattacharya's writing bursts with as much passion as the tropical downpours he describes . . . Some of the most beguiling prose to emerge from the Caribbean.” —David Dabydeen, The Guardian (London)


“This ferociously gifted writer has already been hailed as the natural successor to the great Naipaul—and yes, he is that good.  His narrator has a charming, confident voice that engages instantly and his descriptions of landscapes and people are ravishing.” —The Times (UK)

“Mesmerizing. . . beguiling. . . compelling. . . Bhattacharya sheds great light into this little-known corner of the planet, [forcing] us into a reconsideration of the world.” —The Independent (UK)

“Bhattacharya elevates his tale above the common travelogue by meditating on colonialism’s legacy and questions of identity, layering his thoughtful explorations with raunchy creole dialogue and enthusiastic reggae references. . .  Four stars.” —Time Out (New York)

“With his singular voice, near-tangible narrative descriptions, and apt rendering of the nature of wanderlust, Bhattacharya transforms an ordinary travel tale into an epic journey. . . He deftly captures youth’s angst and the poignant ironies of running away on a journey of self-discovery.” —The Daily Beast

“[I’ve] seldom read a book with so much energy, and on almost every page there were little stylistic twists or felicities which had me stopping to admire them. The novel is a testament both to his potential and to his achievement.” —Nick Laird, 2012 Ondaatje Prize judges’ committee, author of Utterly Monkey 

“Alternately lyrical, abrupt, whimsical, sexy, informative, seductive and always full of surprises . . . The language works a hypnotic magic and you soon feel you’re in Guyana yourself.” —Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies


“What a voice, what a startling, funny, charming, provocative voice! Rahul Bhattacharya’s narrator is a true wanderer and a gifted poet of description. The journey he takes us on, through Guyana, through histories and selves, is a wonder.”—Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask


“Quick, cool, astonishingly assured, it awakens with its landscapes and characters a Conradian sense of wonder.” —Pankaj Mishra, author of Temptations of the West


“Words as musical notes, a book as symphony . . . An exotic locale and lyrical language make for a dazzling debut.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)


 “Rahul Bhattacharya is the writer we’ve been waiting for, and his debut novel, The Sly Company of People Who Care, is that very rare thing: a great local fiction written by an outsider . . . for the first time in years I wished a book longer.” —Brendan de Caires, The Caribbean Review of Books

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Rahul Bhattacharya

  • Born in 1979, Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket-tour book Pundits from Pakistan, which was voted one of the Ten Best Cricket Books of all time in The Wisden Cricketer (London). He lives in Delhi, India. This is his first novel.

  • Rahul Bhattacharya © Sonali Bhattacharya


Available Formats and Book Details

The Sly Company of People Who Care

A Novel

Rahul Bhattacharya