Mythili's Reviews > Last Man in Tower

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga
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Sep 13, 2011

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Set in present-day Mumbai, Last Man in Tower follows the lives of the middle-class residents of Tower A of the Vishram Society apartment complex. Their respectable, unremarkable existence is upended when a wealthy real estate developer makes a offer to buy their units for twice their value, so he can demolish the building and expand his empire. The offer sets off a frenzy of lobbying within the building. Everyone in the building must agree for the offer to come through, so this nosy set of neighbors sets about getting deeper into each other's business, til there's just one hold-out: a stubborn retired teacher named Masterji.

The real estate boom, the anxiety of class mobility, the way the gulf between India's wealthy and poor keeps expanding -- these are all questions well worth exploring and Adiga does a fine job of identifying and illustrating these tensions. The book is alive with India's contradictions (a line I particularly liked: “In the market by the station, mango sellers waited for the returning commuters: ripe and bursting, each mango was like a heartfelt apology from the city for the state of its trains”).

There's a lot to admire about this sharply observed novel, but the thing about Last Man in Tower that prevented me from enjoying it more than I did is that it so neatly meets the expectations for a certain kind of novel about India written by a Western educated Indian expat. It's got a sharp vision, a broad, well-constructed plot, and lots of flavor, and yet, there's something coldly performative about the whole operation. Every character has a specific rung in life, with the costume and outlook to match it, but all of the characters are uniformly foolish and mockable. What ultimately comes through is a deeply cynical worldview, and even though there is a hero of sorts in this book, Adiga is careful to make Masterji, the one contender for a redemptive character in Last Man in Tower, a bit of a narcissistic fool too. This book is entertaining and plenty smart, but a little too soulless for me.

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