Bhopal Dance: The 2017 Novel With Political Lessons from a 1984 Catastrophe

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 4.51.28 PMWhen Jennifer Natalya Fink was in her first semester of college, she says that two events made her feel as if the end of the world was imminent. The first was the November, 1984, re-election of Ronald Reagan. The second was an explosion of a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, that began on December 2 that year, and spewed 30 tons of the highly-toxic gas methyl isocyanate into the air. Thirty-three years later, Bhopal remains the worst industrial disaster in world history.

Fink’s latest novel, Bhopal Dance, explores this environmental calamity through the eyes of three young North Americans, one man and two women, who want to see Union Carbide prosecuted for poisoning thousands. The three are intimately involved—as lovers and as political comrades—and their strategic plan to avenge the deaths can be seen as both a call to arms and a cautionary tale. Winner of the 2017 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize by FC2/University of Alabama Press, Bhopal Dance will be released in March 2018.

Fink recently met with Eleanor J., Bader to discuss the book, her fourth. (Her other books include BURN, V, and The Mikvah Queen, which won the Dana Award and was nominated for both a National Jewish Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.) Over tea, coffee, and bagels, their conversation touched on a wide range of topics: The ongoing need for non-violent activism to promote social justice, living as a secular Jew, and juggling writing, parenting, and teaching.