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on 26 July 2009
This is billed as a novel, but it isn't really that. It is a collection of short stories all set in the same location. One might think of it as a constellation arrangement (in Benjamin's sense) in that the stories are connected, but only indirectly, via the eye of the observer. I think some people have been disappointed by this book because it isn't as satirical as White Tiger, but in many ways that is what makes it a better book. There is a real honesty to this book that is quite disturbing. It doesn't sugar coat things, nor does it create false tales of redemption like Slumdog Millionaire. If it has a single theme it is this: the very poor don't get to make mistakes, one error of judgement is fatal.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 July 2015
As the late-lamented ‘News of the World’ used to proclaim, ‘All human life is there’ and the same is true in these short stories that centre on the fictional town of Kittur, ‘between Goa and Calicut’ on India’s south-western coast. The time is between the assassinations of Indira Ghandi in October 1984 and of her son, Rajiv in May 1991.

The reader/visitor is introduced to different aspects of the town through extracts of a purported travel guide and the book is divided into seven parts as ‘Given the town’s richness of history and scenic beauty, and diversity of religion, race and language, a minimum stay of a week is recommended.’ The locations described provide the settings for the stories that follow.

Once Adiga starts storytelling this rather contrived structure is forgotten as the reader is beguiled by the characters, sights and smells of the locations. One can sense the author’s pleasure in populating his pages with townspeople of different social classes, castes, backgrounds and religions, and also constructing the geography, topography and history of this provincial backwater.

The town offers a contrast to the enticements of the guidebook, being a ‘violent, rotten, garbage-strewn port, crawling with pickpockets and knife-carrying thugs.’ Adiga is even-handed in his attacks on the religious communities than ignore the sufferings of the poor. Many of the stories show a similar trajectory, of poverty, the possibility of improvement but ultimate failure - Ziauddin, one of ‘those lean lonely men with vivid eyes who haunt every train station in India’, Keshava, a boy from a village who becomes a bus conductor before fate takes a hand; Chenayya, who delivers goods on his cycle-cart and seethes at the inequalities in life; Soumya, a beggar girl seeking affection from her father by atisfying his addiction, George, who destroys his sister’s marriage hopes by an ill-judged step and Jayamma, a long-suffering spinster who seeks comfort in the smell of DDT and, ultimately, in reincarnation.

From a higher social level are Shankara, a privileged mixed-caste student, who sets off a bomb in a Jesuit school; Abbasi, a garment factory owner concerned for the eyesight of his women workers, who gets his own back on corrupt government officials in a particularly unpleasant manner; Mr D'Mello, an assistant headmaster with ‘an excessive penchant for old-fashioned violence’ who finally realises what he has missed out on in life and Gururaj Kamath, the newspaper editor in goes in search of the real truth. The childless middle-class couple, Giridhar and Kamini Rao, are the centre of animated discussions by members of their circle as to which is responsible.

Adiga repeatedly describes the complexities of the caste system and its effects on society as well as the corruption in politics, government representatives and business, and the naivety of the population in believing in promises of social improvement and economic advancement. The noise of the town, its streets, hawkers and of building construction and destruction is paralleled by the increasing screams of fury at a society that leads the world in ‘’black-marketing, counterfeiting and corruption’.

There are occasional flashes of humour to modify the harshness and hopelessness of Adiga’s descriptions. This is a book that leaves the reader with much to think about. Significantly, news reaches Kittur about Mrs Gandhi’s murder via the BBC whilst her son’s death is relayed by CNN.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 July 2015
As the late-lamented ‘News of the World’ used to proclaim, ‘All human life is there’ and the same is true in these short stories that centre on the fictional town of Kittur, ‘between Goa and Calicut’ on India’s south-western coast. The time is between the assassinations of Indira Ghandi in October 1984 and of her son, Rajiv in May 1991.

The reader/visitor is introduced to different aspects of the town through extracts of a purported travel guide and the book is divided into seven parts as ‘Given the town’s richness of history and scenic beauty, and diversity of religion, race and language, a minimum stay of a week is recommended.’ The locations described provide the settings for the stories that follow.

Once Adiga starts storytelling this rather contrived structure is forgotten as the reader is beguiled by the characters, sights and smells of the locations. One can sense the author’s pleasure in populating his pages with townspeople of different social classes, castes, backgrounds and religions, and also constructing the geography, topography and history of this provincial backwater.

The town offers a contrast to the enticements of the guidebook, being a ‘violent, rotten, garbage-strewn port, crawling with pickpockets and knife-carrying thugs.’ Adiga is even-handed in his attacks on the religious communities than ignore the sufferings of the poor. Many of the stories show a similar trajectory, of poverty, the possibility of improvement but ultimate failure - Ziauddin, one of ‘those lean lonely men with vivid eyes who haunt every train station in India’, Keshava, a boy from a village who becomes a bus conductor before fate takes a hand; Chenayya, who delivers goods on his cycle-cart and seethes at the inequalities in life; Soumya, a beggar girl seeking affection from her father by atisfying his addiction, George, who destroys his sister’s marriage hopes by an ill-judged step and Jayamma, a long-suffering spinster who seeks comfort in the smell of DDT and, ultimately, in reincarnation.

From a higher social level are Shankara, a privileged mixed-caste student, who sets off a bomb in a Jesuit school; Abbasi, a garment factory owner concerned for the eyesight of his women workers, who gets his own back on corrupt government officials in a particularly unpleasant manner; Mr D'Mello, an assistant headmaster with ‘an excessive penchant for old-fashioned violence’ who finally realises what he has missed out on in life and Gururaj Kamath, the newspaper editor in goes in search of the real truth. The childless middle-class couple, Giridhar and Kamini Rao, are the centre of animated discussions by members of their circle as to which is responsible.

Adiga repeatedly describes the complexities of the caste system and its effects on society as well as the corruption in politics, government representatives and business, and the naivety of the population in believing in promises of social improvement and economic advancement. The noise of the town, its streets, hawkers and of building construction and destruction is paralleled by the increasing screams of fury at a society that leads the world in ‘’black-marketing, counterfeiting and corruption’.

There are occasional flashes of humour to modify the harshness and hopelessness of Adiga’s descriptions. This is a book that leaves the reader with much to think about. Significantly, news reaches Kittur about Mrs Gandhi’s murder via the BBC whilst her son’s death is relayed by CNN.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 December 2011
"Between the Assassinations" comes to us as a collection of short stories, set between the assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi (1984-1991) in the city of Kittur, "on India's southwestern coast, between Goa and Calicut, and almost equidistant from the two," according to its author, multi-prize winning Aravind Adiga, who adds, "of its 193,432 residents, only 89 declare themselves to be without religion or caste." The short stories largely focus on the lives of the poor, of several religions, Muslim, Hindu, Christian; and several castes, the local Hoyka, the lowest of the castes, to the Brahmans, the highest. The stories are, however, universally powerful and brilliantly-written; but, mind you, bitter and angry in tone, as befits chronicles of the poor that we will come to know.

There is George D'Souza, former construction worker, now mosquito-repellent sprayer, who finds a good thing in the lovely young Mrs. Gomes, a grass widow whose husband sends back money from the Arabic world. D'Souza manages to become her gardener, then her chauffeur, then he is able to send to his village to install his sister Maria as Gomes's cook, which will enable the girl to accrue a dowry. And then he presumes. There is Chenayya, who delivers the heaviest furniture up hill on only his bike, and tries desperately to find a better job, without success: a visiting academic informs the deliverymen, who are fed by their boss as part of their wages, that the number of calories they receive daily is insufficient nourishment for the work they do, so that they are depriving and aging their bodies daily. He delivers a TV table to Mrs. Engineer, one of the richest women in the city; who has paid 1142 rupees cash for it: she tips him only three rupees, of which he must give two to his employer. And Gururaj, editor of the local paper: a chance meeting with a bank's Gurkha night guard suddenly illuminates for him the city's thorough-going corruption, and he is unable to continue his work.

The author gives us an India far removed from the Bollywood dreams of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE; an India that is beautiful but filthy, full of social and economic injustice and corruption; a black comedy of manners that can help illuminate a nation of which we know little in laser-bright light.

I've not read Adiga's debut novel The White Tiger. It won the Man Booker Prize of 2008, was a "New York Times" Bestseller; a Book of the Year, 2008, The "Sunday Times" (London); and a bookseller pick, the "Boston Globe." The author was born in India in 1974; attended Columbia and Oxford universities. He is a former correspondent for "Time" magazine; has been published by the "Financial Times," and lives in Mumbai, India. Now is as good a time as any to start reading him.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2011
...is the tag line that I used in my review for Ved Mehta's classic Portrait of India I had previously felt that Mehta was the most insightful guide to the Indian condition, but now he has met his equal, or been superseded by Aravind Adiga. Medta's book is set in the `60's, and ranges across India, from Bollywood to the steel mills in Orissa, from the Himalayas, and the conflict with China in Ladakh, to Calcutta, and Mother Teresa. Adiga chooses to portray India by creating an imaginary town of 200,000, Kittur, placing it on the southwest coast, north of Kerala, and south of Goa, and describing the complexities and uniqueness of India in 14 vignettes. The time period he chose was before "the call-centers," in the late `80s, between the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and that of her son, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.

I found each of the vignettes rich and satisfying; none were weak, none were a favorite. Adiga deftly sets the parameters of each tale in a page or two, and then continues, and it is in his subtle details that he conveys the poverty of human existence, or, in Thoreau's expression, which has virtually become a cliché: the lives of quiet desperation. There is the youth, Ziauddin, who is finally afforded self-respect, as a "Pathan," and who is recruited to count the arrival of Indian military trains; the corruption involved in normal business practices that Abbasi is subjected to in running a shirt factory, and the unforgettable ways he seeks revenge in the ways he serves his alcohol to the bribe-seekers; the seller of pirated books "Mr. Xerox" who goes to jail as a matter of course, proud he is not doing what his father had to; the rich kid who attempted to set off a bomb in his high school class; the newspaper man who is confronted with the scam his profession is; the rickshaw driver Chenayya who makes deliveries, worries about his rusted bike chain, realizing the hopelessness of his fate, but cannot perform the ultimate act of rebellion; the beggar kids whose resourcefulness help their father get his next fix of heroin, and are repaid with a slap in the face; the Brahmin servant who knows her status, and her spinsterhood, and whose principal enjoyment are DDT fumes; the rich women whose husband is in Kuwait, and her relationship with the "mosquito man,"; the quack who sells his pills for VD, but must confront a real-life case in his possible son-in-law; the dinner party of "intellectuals" on the edge of the forest; and the communist who realizes that it might have all been for naught.

Adiga's range is truly astonishing... HOW, one might ask, could he see so much of Indian society, top to bottom, and portray it in these poignant sketches? Most of the lives depicted go beyond "quiet desperation," deep into utter pathos, with most of the characters realizing their fate.

Aspects of the book transcend India, and Adiga clearly makes that point. Consider the journalist, Gururaj Kamath. Via the unlikely source of a Gurkha night-watchman, he realizes that his newspaper prints fantasies and distortions of reality, instead of the truth. At one point he says: "Let's just write nothing but the truth and the whole truth in the newspaper today. Just today. One day of nothing but the truth. That's all I want to do. No one may even notice. Tomorrow we'll go back to the usual lies. But for one day I want to report, write and edit the truth. One day in my life I'd like to be a proper journalist." And later, acknowledging the universality of the problem: "This is the fate of every journalist in this town and in this state and in this country and maybe in this whole world thought Gururaj."

The authenticity of Adiga observations shines throughout the book. Regrettably I have not read The White Tiger his Booker Prize-winning book, but I shall remedy that shortly. Positively 5-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on September 02, 2009)
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on 2 September 2009
Aravind Adiga follows up The White Tiger, his brutal dissection of Indian society, with yet another offering.

This time it is a collection of short stories that share a common theme - endemic corruption at all levels among public servants and a look into the flaws of the Hindu caste system, where so-called 'untouchables' exist.

Despite the country having made rapid strides in the last century, I'm afraid this book reinforces the enduring presence of these social attitudes in India today.

I felt this book was darker than the White Tiger, and lacking its lighthearted narrative and the naivete of its protagonist.
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on 18 April 2012
I share the disappointment of those readers who expected this to be a novel but I'm glad that my ignorance led me to buy what is a deeply thought-provoking and skillfully written collection of short stories assembled within a loose geographical and chronological frame.

The stories present the experiences of a number of characters of varying social class and religion living in the same town at the same time.There are odd moments of linkage but by and large,there is no direct intersection between the stories.Each one gives a different perspective on life lived in India at a particular time.Many of the central characters are desperately poor,some are middle class and there is a least one spoiled rich kid amongst them.

What the frame allows Adiga to do is to present a society existing in various ways:there's no easy poor/rich,good/bad paradigm here although all the characters exist within a system which values individuals in terms which have little to do with character,talent or decency.Because of this,some characters are shoved into misery or madness but some also make choices which bring about their downfall or a small measure of triumph.However,none of this is clear cut:the endings of the stories are often inconclusive and enigmatic implying that a lack of "ending",happy or otherwise is part of real life.

I didn't think that any of the stories in themselves were especially brilliant but all of them were well crafted vignettes which effectively presented life in a world which is foreign to me.By the end, I found myself becoming familiar with Adiga's version of this world in much the same way that I was with Joyce's depiction of his city in "Dubliners", although I make no comparison between the two in terms of quality of writing.

In the end,I enjoyed the collection a lot and turned eagerly from one story to the next but life is so much easier, for this reader at least,when he is not asked to acquaint himself with a new set of characters and circumstances after every twenty or thirty pages of a book.Give me a novel every time.
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on 4 April 2011
This book is the story of a city, rather than of characters. It's essentially a collection of short stories, the only theme connecting them are that they all seem to examine the idea of class or caste divide in Indian society. Adiga seems fascinated with this concept as his last book followed this idea also. Some of the stories really allow you to get inside the heads of those who suffer through being poor in India; they examine how helpless a poor person really is to change their life. other stories seem to be fillers, which is a shame as there are some really powerful stories in here. My biggest criticism is that there is no tying together of the stories, I was hoping that there would be some conclusion to the book which brought all the stories together. With that, this would be a 5 star book.
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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2011
Adiga's Booker winning White Tiger was a very good read: satirical, hard edged, brimming with wit and pace, it felt like it cut to the heart of modern India. Many readers may come to this hoping be for the same - and be disappointed.

Although this is Adiga's second book, it feels like earlier work. The writing is just a little less assured; the weight of its ambition hangs heavily over it. It is a determinedly serious piece. It lacks anything of the sour wit and vibrancy of White Tiger's somewhat amoral narrator.

Once you accept this, however, there is much to admire in Adiga's stories. All set in a fictitious town between the assassinations of Mrs Ghandi and her son, they spotlight the injustices of life in India: caste, poverty, corruption, religious intolerance, corruption, ignorance and yet more corruption. Generally, they avoid being depressing - even if their subject matter is - through the virtue of being beautifully and elegantly written. Artfully chosen details and metaphors illuminate the lives of Adiga's cast. Some are mundane, others more baroque, like the newspaper man who ends up literally eating the printed words.

There is something highly reminiscent of Joyce's Dubliners here. It is not just the fact that these stories all centre around the lives of ordinary, and not so ordinary, people in one city; it is also a similarity in the cultures - halfway between the life of the west or of the mainland, which seems to promise freedom and modernity, and a certain parochial staid small town attitude - that seeps into the stories. It is in the jewel-like quality of lives crisply and perfectly captured. And that's high praise.
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VINE VOICEon 8 May 2011
The title of this book refers to the time between the assasination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi in 1984 and the assasination of her son and successor, Rajiv Ghandi, in 1991. The substance of the book is a tourist guidebook to a fictional Indian town, interspersed within a collection of short stories. Each chapter is independent from the next, though they share the geography of the town and its environs.

Each story is essentially about an individual and how their lives are lived in the town. The characters are mainly drawn from the marginalised and the poor, occasionally reaching into the lower middle-class. The rich and the powerful are largely minor bit-part players whose motives and stories we do not know; the corrupt local MP makes a cameo appearance in a few of the stories but doesn't have a chapter of his own, which is a shame since the corruption of the Indian political class features strongly in the stories of the other characters.

This book reminded me strongly of James Joyce's Dubliners, doing for an anonymous half-baked Indian town (to borrow a term from Adiga's previous book, The White Tiger) what Joyce did for turn of the century Dublin. Stretching the comparison with Joyce a little, where Homer's the Odyssey served as a framework to Ulysses, Adiga borrows the framework of a late 20th century travel book.

Set in the lat 1980s, this books describes everyday Indian life at a turning point - after the idealism of early post-independence socialism had died and started to rot but just before the destabilising turbo-capitalism of globalisation began to reimagine India, a story of continuity, change and dislocation that Adiga has already told in The White Tiger.
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