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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 building named the Shanghai, which promises to be one of the city’s most elite addresses. Larger-than-life Shah is a dangerous man to refuse. But he meets his match in a retired schoolteacher called Masterji.
Shah offers Masterji and his neighbors—the residents of Vishram Society’s Tower A, a once respectable, now crumbling apartment building on whose site Shah’s luxury high-rise would be built—a generous buyout. They can’t believe their good fortune. Except, that is, for Masterji, who refuses to abandon the building he has long called home. As the demolition deadline looms, desires mount; neighbors become enemies, and acquaintances turn into conspirators who risk losing their humanity to score their payday.
Here is a richly told, suspense-fueled story of ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none: the new India as only Aravind Adiga could explore—and expose—it. Vivid, visceral, told with both humor and poignancy, Last Man in Tower is his most stunning work yet.
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By Cariola on 04-21-12
Witty, Sad, Outrageous
I picked up this audioibook because 1) I enjoyed Adiga's first novel, The White Tiger, and 2) the synopsis reminded me of several other books I've enjoyed that center on the residents of an Indian apartment complex, notably Manil Suri's The Death of Vishnu. At first, the novel seems to fall into a similar category, revealing the various personlities and daily interactions of the diverse residents with a wry humor. But their generally peaceful relationships are disrupted by the offer from a developer who wants to tear down Tower A and Tower B. Initially, most of the residents of Tower A want to accept what seems to be a generous offer; but a few holdouts either suspect the builder's honesty or see no reason to leave the place where they have lived contentedly. The problem is that, under their rules, 100% of the residents must agree to sell. Using first logic, then legal technicalities, then bullying and rumors, then threats, the builder's henchman and the residents persuade all but one man to sign the agreement. At this point, any humor that remains is very dark, indeed.
Adiga seems to be making a comment about the extent of human greed, especially in a cramped former 'third world' city (Mumbai) where prosperity has flourished more rapidly than such values as morality, empathy, justice, and a sense of community can allow. Tower A began to remind me of a colony of rats trapped in a sewer, climbing over one another to reach the only means of escape and resorting to the most primitive enactment of survival of the fittest. It's to Adiga's credit that he creates characters that are, initially, so likable, as this only makes the metamorphoses wrought by greed more despicable. His epilogue shows that, sadly, these changes were more than tranistory--perhaps a reflection on the changes success is bringing to the national character. If there is any light for humanity in the ending, it is in the fact that one character, over the course of what occurs, seems to have found a conscience.
While I wouldn't rate Last Man in Tower as a "must read" book, readers who enjoyed The White Tiger or any of the many other books written in recent years that deal with the changing economic, social, and political landscape of modern India would probably find it worth their time.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful