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Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?,
This review is from: Last Man in Tower (Hardcover)
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Last Man in Tower is set in Mumbai (Bombay) and covers a closely-defined period from May to December 2007. The novel paints a realistic picture of the bustling, modern, go-getting city, including its finer points as well as the ever-present squalor. Aravind Adiga dedicates his book to his "fellow commuters" on the Santa Cruz-Churchgate local line, the very one used by some of the characters in his novel, confirming for us that he is indeed as familiar as it would seem with the streets, instant-food stalls and people of Vakola, east Santa Cruz, the Mumbai suburb on which the story is focussed.
The story is gripping, following the varying and developing reactions of the residents of a decaying co-operative tower block to an offer from a developer of two and a half times the real value of their flats. Most unhesitatingly accept, but a couple would rather stay put. That gives rise to conflicting loyalties, disputes within families, much open hostility, and more than a few internal conflicts. The developer too is convincingly portrayed, and we find his "left hand man" as riveting as a rabbit finds a stoat. His function is to perform the tasks the developer's right hand does not want to know about.
Reactions to the book are likely to be mixed, however. For many readers, it will be problematic that there is no-one in the book who we are invited to root for; no main character who is wholly good, give or take a few human foibles; no-one with whom we would want to identify; no unalloyed nobility. Descriptions of the dark depths of Mumbai's cess pools are easier to take than the suggestion that human avarice might extend even to ourselves. We would rather not confront the truth that the possible but uncertain prospect of sudden riches would engender in us thoughts, perhaps actions, similar to those of the residents of Vishram Society (Tower A).
Adiga ends Last Man in Tower on an optimistic note; "Nothing can stop a living thing that wants to be free." Little that goes before encourages that view, but perhaps Adiga's intention is to encourage us to break out of unhappy situations whose continuation is of our own making, and to shun avarice. If so, there is, after all, nobility in this novel.