At the heart of this novel are two equally compelling men, poised for a showdown. Real estate developer Dharmen Shah rose from nothing to create an empire and hopes to seal his legacy with a luxury building named the Shanghai. Larger-than-life Shah is a dangerous man to refuse. But he meets his match in retired schoolteacher Masterji. Except, that is, for Masterji, who refuses to abandon the building he has long called home.
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Share via Email The food chain, as seen in a fish market in Mumbai. An India where temples arrange express-entry lines for paying customers, and money trickles from the glassed shards of the finance centres into the slums "like butter on a hotplate… enriching some and scorching others".
The eponymous White Tiger, Balram Halwai, was at home here. Poor but ambitious, Halwai saw himself as an entrepreneur, a man made "from half-baked clay". That way you go up in life. This skilfully directed ensemble cast gives Adiga access to a range of voices and experiences, from the blind woman who navigates the old building by touch, to the destitute cleaning girl who fears for her job, to the mercenary secretary who just wants a little baksheesh. Slowly, under the pressure of intimidation and the lure of hard cash, the opposition breaks down, until the retired teacher Yogesh Murthy remains "Last Man In Tower", a lone holdout against encroaching gentrification and slum clearance.
This Mumbai is no orientalist fantasy of saffron and saris but a city of work and waste, abattoirs and landfill sites where "ribbons of unspooled cassette-tape" drape the mounds of rubbish "like molten caramel". Early on, an aeroplane flying over a temple is "white and tubular and glistening, like a sea snake leaping up"; later we find water buffalo wandering near the same temple, "coated in dust and dung, their dark bulging bellies spangled by flies".
Circling the temple, those buffalo and that plane suggest the messy and unplanned connectedness of old and new in 21st-century Mumbai. The attempt to impose meaning begins to seem a little incongruous in the last 50 pages or so, as Last Man in Tower shifts in tone to become a darker and more troubling story about the corruption bred by greed in otherwise healthy and tightly knit communities. Close friendships and relationships turn out, like the redeveloped parts of the city, to be built on layers of noxious material, on strata compacted of small discarded resentments.
Picking through this detritus as it begins to overwhelm his characters, Adiga constructs an unsettling, if rather unsettled, novel: one well suited, for that reason, to the febrile and shifting city it seeks to reclaim.
Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga – review
Share via Email The food chain, as seen in a fish market in Mumbai. An India where temples arrange express-entry lines for paying customers, and money trickles from the glassed shards of the finance centres into the slums "like butter on a hotplate… enriching some and scorching others". The eponymous White Tiger, Balram Halwai, was at home here. Poor but ambitious, Halwai saw himself as an entrepreneur, a man made "from half-baked clay". That way you go up in life.
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I thought The White Tiger packed a punch, it was in your face, fast-paced None of these characteristics are present in this book. This book has more of a slow, trickling effect. It kind of creeps up on you and then leaves you devastated, which is how I felt a couple of minutes after I finished it.
Last Man in Tower
The set-up is impressively simple. Shah and his "left-hand man", the sinuous Shanmugham, ride into town offering each resident a vast sum of money to quit their property: while a touch of resistance might produce a "sweetener", too much might result in a mysterious "accident". Tower B, filled with young executives, falls into line immediately, while Tower A proves a slightly tougher nut to crack. Its residents have their unofficial "parliament", but they also have complicated individual histories and sensibilities that Shah and his henchman must negotiate. Masterji is the eponymous last man, entrenched in his commitment to resistance, secure in his belief in the power of cooperative living, impervious to bribes and threats alike. But if his secret and apparently inviolable weapon is a lack of material desire that means he cannot be bought, it also comes to seem like a weakness, indicating an inability to empathise with his fellow residents.