Posted by: Jeanie F | October 7, 2011

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

Perhaps because I know that I will never travel to India – the very thought of it overwhelms me – I am fascinated by and addicted to books about India. Living in a neat and orderly Southern California suburb as I do, it’s hard to imagine a life among the crowds, noise, smells, and raw humanity that seem to embody modern India. While I was drawn to Last Man in Tower because of the location, as well as my prior experience reading this author, it’s an age-old story that could take place anywhere. Change a few details, scratch the cultural surface of this interesting cast of characters, and you have a timeless story of the consequences that accompany greed and temptation.

Aravind Adiga, the author, rose to literary prominence when his previous novel, White Tiger, won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. In my estimation, he has surpassed the success of his earlier work with this new novel.

Last Man is the story of what would be a condominium co-op here in the United States. This six-story building, consisting of fifteen units and known as Vishram Society (Tower A), sits on the edge of a Mumbai slum. Its middle-class tenants have lived in harmony for many years. As the book opens we see how involved they are in each others’ lives, knowing family histories and habits in the intimate way that people living in close proximity often do. Muslims co-exist in harmony with Catholics, Hindus, and atheists; neighbors look out for and help one another in time of need, while tactfully refraining from meddling in each others’ business. If not always easy, life is companionable in the Vishram Society.

That is, until a real estate developer decides that he is going to offer the tenants an enormous sum of money (approximately $330,00 per family – the average annual income is about $800, according to the author) to sell their property to him. He plans to demolish the Vishram Society and construct a massive, modern new development.

Conflict arises when all but one tenant, Yogesh A. Murthy (known as “Masterji”), agree to take the deal. Masterji, a retired teacher, refuses to sell. As Dharmen Shah, the developer, and his “left-hand man”, Shanmugham (so-called because he does the things that “the right hand doesn’t want to know about”) mount pressure on the residents, we begin to see cracks in the neighborly relationships for which they pride themselves.

Adiga has done a fine job of developing this story and, by the time we get to a point of real conflict among the tenants, we actually understand and sympathize with both sides. Masterji is truly the “last man,” standing alone in bewilderment and frustration; his neighbors are forced to re-evaluate their belief in their strong morals and ethics. Even Shah has certain goals and beliefs that we understand, while we don’t necessarily condone his methods.

Along with the human side of this story, there’s an interesting and important examination of the collision between rapid economic expansion and the human toll that it takes.

Wryly humourous, thought-provoking, and engaging, Adiga has written a compelling and worthwhile novel of modern India. I highly recommend it.

Grade: A


Responses

  1. Interesting review. I also really enjoyed Last Man in Tower. It is a great examination of where modern money collides with traditional morals. You are right in that you can sympathise with both sides too.

    • Graham, I’m finding that the story – and the characters – are staying with me in a way that isn’t always the case. Adiga really brought them to life.

  2. After White Tiger, which I found OK but no more than that, I haven’t really been interested in this writer, but your review makes me rethink!

    I am like you, I can’t imagine going to India *and enjoy it* – it seems too overwhelming.

  3. I thought this was much better than White Tiger, which I liked but didn’t love. The characters in Last Man are SO much more interesting!

    • It definitely sounds better!

  4. Thanks Jeanie. I’m going to add this to my list for the week. I’m shooting for ten books in ten days. Anything to get my mind off the impending judgement of agents.

  5. This book made so many lists of recommended reads – and I have it on my “to read” list. Thanks for the review.

  6. I have this book on my ” to listen” list. I heard an extract from the audio book on a radio show called The Book Report. You can listen to the archived shows on http://bookreportradio.com.
    I find that listening to books while I am on the exercise bicycle is a great way to set some extra reading in.


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