Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Last Man in Tower


Last Man in Tower
Aravind Adiga
Rs. 699
Pp 432
ISBN: 9789350290842

About the book
Ask any Bombaywallah about Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society and you will be told that it is unimpeachably pucca. Despiteits location close to the airport and bordered by slums, it has been pucca for some fifty years. But then Bombay has changed in half a century not least its name – and the world in which Tower A was first built is giving way to a new city, a Mumbai of new development and new money; of wealthy Indians returning with fortunes made abroad.

When real estate developer Dharmen Shah offers to buy out the residents of Vishram Society, planning to use the site to build a luxury apartment complex, his offer is more than generous. Yet not everyone wants to leave; many of them have lived in Vishram for years, many of them are no longer young. But none can benefit from the offer unless all agree to sell. As tensions rise, one by one those who oppose the offer give in to the pressure of the majority, until only one man stands in the way of Shah’s luxury high-rise: Masterji, a retired schoolteacher, once the most respected man in the building. Shah is a dangerous man to refuse, but as the demolition deadline looms, Masterji’s neighbours – friends who have become enemies, acquaintances turned co-conspirators – may stop at nothing to score their payday. A suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation; a rich tapestry peopled by unforgettable characters, not least of which is Bombay itself, Last Man in Tower opens up the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of a great city – ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none.

Full review here Guardian
If the residents of Tower A, Vishram Society, pride themselves on anything, it is their respectability – their "pucca" way of life in their "unimpeachably pucca" apartment building. Once pink, Tower A may now be a "rainwater-stained, fungus-licked grey"; it may not boast an uninterrupted supply of running water; it may sit amid the slums of Vakola, in the flight path of Mumbai's domestic airport; and it may be falling into a state of disrepair unchecked by its ineffectual secretary. But Vishram Society's virtues outweigh its failings; a model of neighbourliness and middle-class virtue, it brings together those of different backgrounds – originally built for a Catholic population, it admitted Hindus in the 1960s and "the better kind of Muslim" in the 80s – in harmonious testimony to the possibility of cooperative living. That, at least, is the theory, although Aravind Adiga's painful tragicomedy demolishes it more quickly than Dharmen Shah, his ruthless property developer, throws up his luxury redevelopments.

Full review here Telegraph
In his first, Man Booker-winning novel, The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga captured the contradictions of the new India; in this, his third book, he goes further: they are quite literally the building blocks of his plot.

Last Man in Tower tells the story of a struggle for a slice of shining Mumbai real estate, bringing all of Adiga’s gifts for sharp social observation and mordant wit to the fore.
The “last man” of the title is Yogesh Murthy, or “Masterji” as he is affectionately known, a retired schoolteacher who gives top-up science classes in his spare time. He lives in a crumbling but “absolutely, unimpeachably pucca” middle-class block of flats in the Vishram Housing Society. The water only works for a couple of hours twice a day and each monsoon threatens to bring the roof in; but this is still an idyll representing what was once, itself, “new India”. Citizens of every religion rub along together in a way, Adiga writes, that would have made Nehru proud.

-o-o-o-Full review here Hindustan Times
There comes a point in Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, a chronicle of his love-hate relationship with Bombay, where he takes Paul Theroux’s ‘Bombay-smells-of-money’ argument up by a notch to conclude, “Bombay is a city in which everything is on broad, public display. Nothing is hidden.” This simplistic observation stands apart from the rest of the book, which repeatedly asserts that you cannot describe Bombay in black and white, for beneath the surface of this seemingly monochromatic megalopolis lies a vibrant spectrum of greys.

This is where Aravind Adiga enters with his third book (and second novel) Last Man In Tower. If people, not steel and glass, impart Mehta’s florid and fragile Bombay its character, Adiga’s admiration for Mumbai forms the foundation of his latest novel.

“I was born in India, raised here and I love it here,” says Adiga. But that love didn’t go unopposed. In 2008, Adiga faced the ire of self-styled nationalists who read too much into the journalist-turned-author’s debut novel The White Tiger (which went on to win the Man Booker Prize), and involuntarily transformed him into a critic of India’s social and economic dichotomies. The story of the clash of an advancing India with its primitive self, where the eponymous character-narrator Balram Halwai’s “schematic and limited” vision of life was mistaken to be that of Adiga’s, exposed to the world a nation caught with its pants down, ‘loyalists’ felt.

Full review here Financial Times
Land, today, has become the most valuable resource in India, lying at the dark confluence of politics, money, business and pure human avarice. With the economy growing at breakneck pace, the pressure for the acquisition and development of land has never been greater. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. As rents and property prices have skyrocketed, so has grown the public outcry against the city’s rapacious redevelopment. A veteran journalist lamented recently that every government in the region “has been the government of the builders, by the builders and for the builders”.

Aravind Adiga’s latest novel Last Man in Tower examines this sharpening crisis from the perspective of the residents of an old apartment block in north-west Mumbai. Vishram Society “is anchored like a dreadnought of middle-class respectability” in a neighbourhood populated by slums. Despite its peeling paint and 47-year-old brickwork, the grandmotherly building is spoken of with reverence because its residents “pay taxes, support charities, and vote in local and general elections”.


Full review here DNA

Last Man In Tower is set in Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing society in Vakola, Mumbai. It is an aging, run-down apartment building inhabited by a disappearing breed, the middle class. The occupants of Tower A are a closely knit bunch, having supported each other through many crises, trials and tragedies. Yet, when a builder approaches the society with a lucrative offer, friendships that have spanned decades start to fall apart.

The novel takes for inspiration a phenomenon that has swept every Indian metro in recent years: middle class families wooed by sky-rocketing property prices sell their modest homes and move into penthouses, swapping their scooters for cars, Godrej almaris for imported teak cupboards, thrifty habits for a lifestyle of affluence. In Adiga’s Last Man In Tower, a retired sixty-one year old science teacher, ‘Masterji’, is the last man to resist the builder’s offer.

Full review here GQ India

When Aravind Adiga’s debut novel The White Tiger swept to victory in the Man Booker Prize, instead of throwing bouquets, Indian critics threw brickbats. A barrage of epithets, rather unfairly, rained in: stereotypical, dull, demeaning and tedious.

The writer’s third novel, Last Man in Tower, might not change their minds entirely. A taut, visceral tale based in Mumbai, this literary pot-boiler probes urban redevelopment, a festering sore in a city where land is scarce and invaluable. Adiga’s minutely detailed and almost voyeuristic insights into the lives of the dwellers of a cosmopolitan housing society are bigger than the plot, though.

Full review here Washington Post 
Funny, provocative and decadent: Aravind Adiga’s “Last Man in Tower” is the kind of novel that’s so richly insightful about business and character that it’s hard to know where to begin singing its praises.

That Adiga knows economics well should come as no surprise. After all, he worked as a financial journalist for Time magazine in India, and his first novel, “The White Tiger,” reveled in the darker consequences of a world turned flat. The story described a servant seduced by visions of wealth who murders his way out of poverty. It was as popular as it was controversial in India, and in Britain it captured the Man Booker Prize.

Full review here Seattle Times
Aravind Adiga, winner of the Man Booker Prize for "The White Tiger," brings readers another look at an India at once simple and complex, as old as time and brand new.

The Mumbai residents of Tower A, Vishram Society, get along very well; Catholic, Muslim and Hindu sharing what was once a thoroughly first-class building. Their home is now short on light and running water, long on flaking, rainwater-stained walls and in need of the periodic services of the seven-kinds-of-vermin man.

Despite these shortcomings, Vishram dwellers are content, until they meet Dharmen Shah, an eminently successful and ruthless developer and his "left-hand man," the enforcer, Shanmugham.

Shah, who is not a well man, wants to ensure his legacy by building "The Shanghai," a modern high-rise, on the site of Tower A. He offers each tenant more money than any of them could amass in a lifetime, just to relocate. This offer is met with great rejoicing all around, except by one person: Yogesh A. Murthy, known as "Masterji," age 61, a retired schoolteacher and a recent widower.

Full review here Independent
In Mumbai, property development is a serious business. Sometimes deadly serious.

Prime land is costly; human life is cheap. The Vishram Society is a middle-class housing co-operative based in a block to the city's east. The area has become intensely desirable, and property developer Dharmen Shah is determined to tear Vishram down and replace it with luxury apartments. Yet not all Vishram's residents are willing to be bought out, despite Shah's generous offers. Opposition centres around Yogesh Murthy, nicknamed "Masterji", an obdurate retired teacher and widower.

Aravind Adiga is most famous, of course, for his Booker prize-winning novel The White Tiger. It told the story of a downtrodden servant who was willing to go to shocking extremes to get the better of his masters. Subtle it wasn't, but the savage energy of its satire could not be ignored. Adiga's next volume, Between the Assassinations, was a collection of stories set in a fictitious southern Indian town, also focussing on poverty and corruption. In it, Adiga's facility with language came further to the fore in a series of evocative cameos that captured the town's stagnation.

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