Review: Last Man In Tower

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July 5, 2011 by markstani

You don’t need some blogger to tell you India’s in the middle of a seismic economic shift. Aravind Adiga’s books encapsulate that change best of all. They’re starkly evocative of a rush to riches which seems as unstoppable as Mumbai’s filthy, shit-strewn tide. With White Tiger, which won the Booker Prize in 2008, Adiga established himself indisputably as the voice of this newly modern India, shaking the caste system to its core and highlighting the endemic corruption and greed which blights such so-called progress. In his third book, Last Man In Tower (Atlantic Books), Adiga directly addresses the chaos and conflicts such progress inevitably churns up. Masterji, a respected and retired schoolteacher, is placed as modern Mumbai’s Canute, resisting the attempts of a real estate agent to buy out and redevelop the tower in which he lives. Only the 100 per cent agreement of the tower’s residents can pave the way for the agent, and earn each resident a much-craved pay-off. Gradually, his neighbours fall under the developer’s spell until only Masterji is left standing in the way of their relative fortune. His continued refusal raises tensions among his previously respectable, middle-class neighbours, which quickly threaten to spiral out of control. If Last Man In Tower lacks some of the urgency of his debut, it’s because it is a much more ambitious book both in scope and execution. It is Adiga’s shining talent that allows him get away with it, as a bundle of initial characters gradually develop their own distinctive personalities and sub-plots. Thus the basic narrative – of one man holding out against escalating plots and threats – is imbued with a much deeper delve into the hypocrisies and contradictions ripping apart so much of middle-class Mumbai today, as the novel marches towards its tumultuous conclusion. With neighbours-turned-enemies and even the developer himself coughing up the emphysema-dust of so many new builds, Adiga succeeds in turning the pace of change into something of a paradox: even in a city still as obviously in need of investment and infrastructure as modern Mumbai, that change can sometimes seem more like a curse than a path to a super-power future.

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