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Aravind Adiga’s first novel since his Man Booker Prize–winning best seller The White Tiger (“Amazing . . . One of the most powerful books I’ve read in decades” —Deirdre Donahue, USA Today): a stunning, darkly comic story of greed and murder that lays bare the teeming metropolis of Mumbai.
Real estate developer Dharmen Shah’s offer to buy out the residents of Vishram Society—a formerly respectable, now crumbling apartment complex that abuts the infamous Dharavi slums—is more than generous. But one man stands in the way of Shah’s luxury high- rise: Masterji, a retired schoolteacher who will not leave his home in Vishram’s Tower A. Shah is a dangerous man to refuse, but as the demolition deadline looms, Masterji’s neighbors—friends who have become enemies, acquaintances turned co- conspirators—may stop at nothing to score their payday.
An electrifying, suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation, peopled by brilliantly drawn, unforgettable characters, Last Man in Tower exposes the hearts and minds of the everymen and women of a great, booming city—ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none.
“When Mumbai was still Bombay, the apartment building became the new village, inhabitants growing up and old together, intertwined in one another's rhythms and needs. Tower A of the Vishram Society is one such building-both a character and the setting in this riveting novel, Adiga's first since winning the Man Booker Prize. Here, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Communists have lived together for decades, finding recent common ground in their suspicions about the new 'modern' girl in 3B. But when a developer offers each resident an astronomical sum to move out so that he might build a luxury condo, greed threatens to destroy the community. . . .Adiga is a master of pacing. The momentum builds as neighbors become consumed by money, allowing Adiga to show his characters grappling with circumstance and enduring difficult changes of heart. Adiga takes a harsh look at Mumbai's new wealth, but his characters are more than archetypes. Though the allure of capitalism has won them over, the inhabitants of Tower A are at the mercy of the rich as much as their neighbor, the [principled] teacher, is at the mercy of them.” —Publishers Weekly
“There's a building in Mumbai we get to know as well as the protagonists: Vishram Society Tower A, an unremarkable six-story structure a stone's throw from the Vakola slums. The residents are middle-class professionals, respectable people typified by Masterji, the 61-year-old retired physics teacher and recent widower. Mr. Shah is [a] far from respectable but hugely successful builder. His is a rags-to-riches story; he's now at the top of the heap. Vishram's towers' proximity to the financial center attract his attention; they must be demolished to make way for his magnificent new project. Masterji is the lone holdout. Stubborn and irascible, he is that rare individual who has no price; he wants nothing. Shah could have his enforcer cripple or kill him, but he wants the building's gossipy denizens, by now frantic for the money, to do the dirty work. With great skill, Adiga spotlights the slippery slope, as the unthinkable becomes the thinkable and finally, the doable. The author sets us up for the kill while placing it in context: the riotous sights, sounds, and smells of Mumbai. Adiga nails the culture of corruption. How exciting to watch a writer come into his own, surpassing the achievement of his first novel.” —Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)
“As with The White Tiger, [in Last Man in Tower] Adiga describes an India that is avaricious, acquisitive and insecure. His earlier work told the story of a desperate, rural poverty; Last Man in Tower depicts a genteel middle-class impoverishment of imagination and hope. Whether it is through the fight for water or the battle to board the commuter trains, Mr. Adiga captures with heartbreaking authenticity the real struggle in Indian cities, which is for dignity. A funny yet deeply melancholic work, Last Man in Tower is a brilliant, and remarkably mature, second novel. A rare achievement.” —The Economist
“A devilishly on-target comedy of greed, conspiracy, and bloodshed. . . . A high-stakes drama concerning the fate of an old apartment building on the swampy outskirts of Mumbai, Man Booker Prize winner Adiga continues his satirical inquiry into the forces at work in the new India. . . . Dharmen Shah, an ambitious developer, is hell-bent on buying out the coop group, tearing down the tower and erecting a monumental dream palace. His cash offer functions like a stick thrust into a beehive. Everyone is abuzz and ready to sting as some view the buyout as a godsend, while others think it’s a catastrophe. In this shrewdly constructed microcosm, Adiga wryly yet tenderly portrays a spectrum of struggling individuals . . . As the promise of wealth trumps basic decency, Masterji, a tragically deluded man of principle and pride, becomes the last holdout, clinging to the tower as emblematic of all that is under assault in a mindlessly greedy, materialistic world. Adiga’s calculatingly detailed and elaborately suspenseful, charming yet murderous tale asks painful questions about community, the dark bewitchment of money, and all that we endanger for ‘progress.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“A gripping novel about real estate, greed, and community. There’s a building in Mumbai we get to know as well as the protagonists: Vishram Society Tower A, an unremarkable six-story structure a stone’s throw from the Vakola slums. The residents are middle-class professionals, respectable people typified by Masterji, the 61-year-old retired physics teacher and recent widower. Mr. Shah is [a] far from respectable but hugely successful builder. His is a rags-to-riches story; he’s now at the top of the heap. Vishram’s towers’ proximity to the financial center attract his attention; they must be demolished to make way for his magnificent new project. Masterji is the lone holdout. Stubborn and irascible, he is that rare individual who has no price; he wants nothing. Shah could have his enforcer cripple or kill him, but he wants the building’s gossipy denizens, by now frantic for the money, to do the dirty work. With great skill, Adiga spotlights the slippery slope, as the unthinkable becomes the thinkable and finally, the doable. The author sets us up for the kill while placing it in context: the riotous sights, sounds, and smells of Mumbai. Adiga nails the culture of corruption. How exciting to watch a writer come into his own, surpassing the achievement of his first novel.” —Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)
“Dharmen Shah [is] the property developer villain of Adiga’s second novel [whose] latest plan is to buy out the Vishram society, a housing co-operative near slum-land south of Mumbai’s airport, and to redevelop it into a stack of luxury apartments. An Ayn Rand-ish übermensch, Shah has already built a development called the Fountainhead as part of his booming construction empire in Mumbai . . . Opposing Shah is a group of residents for whom the old tumbledown building represents more than land value. This skillfully directed ensemble cast gives Adiga access to a range of voices and experiences, from the blind woman who navigates the old building by touch, to the destitute cleaning girl who fears for her job, to the mercenary secretary who just wants a little baksheesh. . . . Last Man in Tower is a timely parable for the age of the property bubble and the vanity redevelopment project. Set in a city where the world’s first billion-dollar skyscraper home offers views, on a clear day, of the leveled shantytowns to the north, it derives its best local effects from that uncomfortable contrast. This Mumbai is no orientalist fantasy of saffron and saris but a city of work and waste, abattoirs and landfill sites . . . Early on, an aeroplane flying over a temple is ‘glistening, like a sea snake leaping up’; later we find water buffalo wandering near the same temple, ‘coated in dust and dung, their dark bulging bellies spangled by flies’. Circling the temple, those buffalo and that plane suggest the messy and unplanned connectedness of old and new in 21st-century Mumbai. . . . An unsettling novel, well suited to the febrile and shifting city it seeks to reclaim.” —James Purdon, The Observer
“Evocative, entertaining, and angry . . . 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 has sharpened his observations . . . 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. . . . [He] offers a convincing glimpse of human nature [and] succeeds in breathing life into an array of characters . . . His scope, in this novel teeming with life and skullduggery, is indeed Dickensian, although his characterization is anything but. Dickens painted heroes and villains; Adiga’s characters are bundles of moral ambivalence.” —Ceri Radford, The Telegraph
“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. . . . Last Man in Tower examines this sharpening crisis from the perspective of the residents of an old apartment block in north-west Mumbai. . . . While the building’s floor plan is made to resemble a microcosm of India, it is the inner world of the characters, the rich tapestry of relationships, alliances and loyalties that lends the story solidity and depth. Envy, lust, loneliness, there is a lot going on behind the walls of [Vishram Society’s] Tower A, but most of all there is the quiet desperation of middle-class lives. Enter Dharmen Shah, owner of the Confidence Group . . . Shah plans to redevelop Vishram as Confidence Shanghai, a high-rise with super-luxury apartments. His proposal of an outright purchase of all the flats at double the market rate electrifies the residents. . . . Greed provides the ballast for the remainder of the novel, showing how the promise of unexpected wealth spreads its poison and corrupts a community. . . . Adiga’s new novel is more contemplative than his Booker-winning The White Tiger . . . Reflections on life in Mumbai are embellished with acute observations and sharp imagery . . . An indictment of the hypocritical mores of the middle class, prepared to cut corners and take recourse to ‘number two activities’ in its hurry to move up in life. Like all cautionary tales, it embodies more than a little truth about our times.” —Vikas Swarup, Financial Times
“Painful tragicomedy . . . Masterji is the eponymous last man, entrenched in his commitment to resistance, secure in his belief in the power of cooperative living, impervious to bribes and threats alike. With the Pintos, he imagines a trio [whose] strength of purpose rivals rival[s] that of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey. But if his secret weapon is a lack of material desire that means he cannot be bought, it also comes to seem like a weakness, an inability to empathize with his fellow residents. Do the convictions of one man cancel out the desires of the rest of the civic body? Adiga skillfully poses these problems and equally skillfully frustrates our attempts to answer them. . . . [He] also manages to thicken his narrative with a subtle and nuanced examination of the nature of personal corruption—more subtle, in fact, than in his powerfully scathing first novel, The White Tiger. His targets here are similar: the web-like social structures that surround citizens, creating a stasis that defies attempts at progress; the vacuum created by misgovernance that allows greed and envy to flourish; the bureaucracy—represented here by a double-talking lawyer straight from the pages of Dickens—that creates the illusion of order and justice while perpetuating the opposite. . . . Last Man in Tower has a broader and more forgiving feel than The White Tiger, incorporating a gentler comic tone that finds affection as well as despair in poking fun at its characters’ pretensions and frailties. But Adiga’s anger at the India he describes—cities in which rapid economic expansion comes at an impossible price for a vast swath of their inhabitants, and in which the slow fading of the caste system has not been accompanied by a rise in social egalitarianism—remains undimmed. . . . In this complex and multi-layered novel, he continues his project of shining a light on the changing face of India, bringing us a picture that is as compelling as it is complex to decipher.” —Alex Clark, The Guardian
“Ambitious . . . Memorable . . . Last Man in Tower retains The White Tiger’s dynamism and adds some of the finesse of Between the Assassinations. . . . If the main players in The White Tiger were archetypal, here Adiga offers more complexity. Each of his main characters is floundering. . . . Adiga is Dickensian in the extent of his cast. Around his two main characters he marshals more than 20 others . . . The brutal cynicism of Adiga’s previous work has been tempered here by an ambivalent acknowledgement of the benefits which India’s rise is bringing to its growing middle class. . . . Dominating the narrative is Mumbai itself, once again one of the mightiest cities on earth. . . . Adiga lays out this most frenetic of megalopolises before us, by turns fascinating, sensual and horrifying, as his writing takes an impressive step onwards.” —Peter Carty, The Independent on Sunday
“Richly evocative . . . To make a building such as a block of flats the frame for a novel has rich possibilities in a modern world where lives are forever being forced together by collective structures. . . . Adiga [shows] considerable skill at evoking the quotidian lives, domestic and communal, of Tower A’s inhabitants.” —Adam Lively, The Sunday Times (London)
“Richly comedic . . . Beautifully done. Masterji is one of those characters we cannot help but fear for as he moves towards the self-righteous last stand that will destroy him. Equally well drawn is his opponent, Shah, first seen observing a pair of hawks from his hospital window . . . The symbolic purpose of the hawks is clear, of course, but what makes the fleeting scene so effective is the way that the old developer’s mouth waters at the sight of blood: he is as much a predator as are the hawks. . . .The narrative is like a roving camera, shifting from flat to flat and from one character or family to another in rapid succession. Funny and engaging as he can be, Adiga never forgets the seriousness of his subject, or the general corruption that, in the words of Edmund Burke, makes a good man’s fall ‘an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’ We remember Ibsen’s lonely hero, standing against the entire world for a principle. . . . [This is] a morality tale for the modern age. . . as honest as it is entertaining.’” —John Burnside, The Times (London)
“[Adiga’s] terrific first novel White Tiger deservedly won the Man Booker Prize. This one is even better. The whole of Mumbai comes under his microscope in the tale of a middle-class apartment block in a slummy area—and what happens when a property tycoon bribes the various inhabitants to leave. The result is as well-paced as any crime story, but so much more. Every one of the huge cast of characters is brilliantly drawn. I’m aghast with admiration. There is no one writing fiction as good as this in Britain or America.” —A. N. Wilson, Reader’s Digest (UK)
“Eagerly awaited . . . A richly evoked, Dickensian world that explores the chasm between rich and poor, the venal and the incorruptible, and the narrative is studded with delightful epiphanies. . . . [Real estate developer] Dharmen Shah is a magnificent creation. The archetypal self-made man, he is a monument to human greed . . . His relationship with buildings is visceral: he loves the smell of steel and cement and closes his eyes before visiting one of his developments so that he can defer the pleasure. . . . As in The White Tiger, Adiga succeeds in giving a voice and a sense of humor to the powerless. ‘Jokes are the only weapons we have,’ laments one character. And, happily, this novel is full of them. All human life—and longing—is here. Marvelous stuff.” —Sebastian Shakespeare, The Tatler (UK)
“An apartment block provides the perfect plot for a novelist to explore. Its inhabitants—always varied in caste, class and character—are forced to rub along as best they can, but friction often results. A single building comes to represent not only a city but a whole country. [Last Man in Tower] show[s] what happens when old, respectable India clashes with new, get-rich-quick India. . . . The end is both savage, sordid and ever so sad. However, Last Man in Tower, in its dizzying portrait of Mumbai, contains plenty of comedy and dark humor.”
—Mark Sanderson, Sunday Telegraph
“A book of Victorian amplitude, and, like the great 19th century novels, very hard to summarize. So much is going on; there are so many characters, whose lives and family histories have been thoroughly imagined and developed; and there is, again, a characteristically Victorian range in its treatment of various social levels and willingness to pose and examine questions of personal and social morality. It is a novel of our times but also a determinedly old-fashioned one—and none the worse for that. . . . The tower of the title is the Vishram Society, a co-operative Housing Society, all members of which have equal voting rights. . . . We come to know a lot about most of them, and Adiga gives us a very full picture of their lives, worries, concerns and pleasures. . . . [One resident,] Masterji is a retired teacher and widower, still mourning his wife and dead daughter, a highly respected member of the community who gives extra lessons free of charge to several of the Society's children. Masterji is in many ways admirable, but Adiga is too good a novelist not to allow us to see that he is also conceited—intensely conscious of his high status as a teacher—and inflexibly self-righteous. . . . Adiga is absolutely fair in his treatment of all his characters, even the grotesque and unlikeable [Dharmen] Shah. . . . Adiga shows with great skill how in extreme situations decent people may be brought to behave badly. . . . This is a very fine novel, wonderfully rich in detail and the evocation of everyday life. It is a social novel full of memorable individuals. It has a range, ambition and humanity which one rarely finds in contemporary British or US fiction: further evidence that the true successors to the European novelists of the 19th century are now to be found in the Indian sub-continent and the Arab world.” —Allan Massie, The Scotsman
“Limpid, witty and addictive . . . [An] always engaging, ultimately disturbing and tragic novel . . . The cast of characters is large but, to Adiga’s credit, never overwhelming. Each of them is memorably and vividly drawn, none more so than Masterji who, by standing up for his rights, finds that, in such a corrupt and selfish culture, he is made to feel the bad guy. . . . The portrait Adiga paints of India’s fastest-changing city may not be flattering—as it was not of Delhi in The White Tiger—but it is cautionary. In that regard, Adiga is like Dickens or any novelist who sees things politicians, big businessmen and others cannot see and do not want us to see. Novelists are not, or ought not to be, extensions of the PR industry, which sucks up young people who used to go into journalism, to the chagrin of Masterji, the perfect hero for these unheroic times.” —Alan Taylor, The Herald (Glasgow)
“The Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger delivers a masterful portrait of booming Mumbai told through the struggle over an apartment building between an ambitious property developed and a humble, defiant schoolteacher. With this gripping, amusing glimpse into the contradictions and perils of modern India, Adiga cements his reputation as the preeminent chronicler of his country’s messy present. . . . [A] must-read book [of the] Fall.” —Malcolm Jones and Lucas Wittman, Newsweek
“When Mr. Adiga's energetic first novel, The White Tiger, won the 2008 Booker Prize, the judges praised the Indian-born author for undertaking ‘the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader's sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain.’ Last Man in Tower is set in a crumbling apartment building in Mumbai, which a real-estate developer wants to clear out and transform into a luxury high-rise. Many of the residents happily agree to take the handsome payoff and leave; others dig in their heels, spurning the developer's bribes and threats. Adiga populates his fiction with characters from all parts of India's contemporary social spectrum, and the intensity of his anger at aspects of modern India is modulated by his impish wit.” —Cynthia Crossen, The Wall Street Journal
“Funny, provocative and decadent: 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; he worked as a financial journalist for Time magazine in India. . . .The topic [in Last Man in Tower] is real estate and the conflicting interests of community and development. A charming, ruthless real estate mogul offers the residents [of] the Vishram Society $330,000 per family to leave their crumbling six-story complex so he can build a luxury skyscraper. Almost everyone is thrilled [except] 61-year-old Masterji, a science teacher so attuned to the stars and the moon, to the ideas of history and political idealism, [that he is] deaf to the emotional pleas of his neighbors. Anyone who has ever had an important request categorically refused knows the wretched, helpless fury that such opposition can provoke. The novel pushes beyond dollars and cents, because Last Man in Tower is also an existentialist drama. Like Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, it provides a kind of locked-room character study as the residents of the Vishram try desperately, then viciously, to persuade Masterji to accept Mr. Shah’s lucrative destruction. Bit by bit, Adiga strips away the characters’ faith in themselves as good people, revealing long-buried seams of pride, greed, hubris, envy and cowardice. Under pressure, they turn against each other, giving voice to grievances buried for decades, and then turn toward each other to form a fearsome mob. . . . Vain, shrewd and stubborn, [Masterji] is one of the most delightfully contradictory characters to appear in recent fiction. Is Masterji’s refusal meant to protect a more vulnerable tenant? Is he holding out for more cash? Is he simply afraid of change? Does he relish the sensation of power? Is his refusal rooted in incorruptible principle or dictatorial ego? Adiga himself refuses to answer. Rather, he adds another layer by deftly, slyly aligning Masterji’s position with that of old India. It’s no coincidence that some of the novel’s most violent actions take place against a background of patriotic songs and Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Or that the residents’ first action against Masterji is a boycott—a favorite maneuver of Gandhi against the British colonialists. In a country that has been dominated by a single political family—that of Nehru—for 60-odd years, the suggestion that the old Independence guard may have itself turned into a paternalistic oppressor has real bite. [Last Man in Tower has] many delights. Adiga told the Times of India: ‘Money is amoral. It can liberate people as easily as it can destroy them.’ In Last Man in Tower, we watch it do both.” —Marcela Valdes, The Washington Post
“What happens to a man who is not for sale in a society where everyone else has his price? That is the subject of Adiga’s adroit, ruthless and sobering novel. Masterji is sequentially betrayed by neighbors, clergy, friends, lawyers, journalists and even his own grasping son as the reader roots for some deus ex machina to save him. Adiga, who earned the Man Booker prize for White Tiger, peppers his universally relevant tour de force with brilliant touches, multiple ironies and an indictment of our nature.” —Sheila Anne Feeney, The Star Ledger
“It sounds far too clinical to say that Aravind Adiga writes about the human condition. He does, but, like any good novelist, Adiga’s story lingers because it nestles in the heart and the head. In Last Man in Tower, his new novel about the perils of gentrification in a Mumbai neighborhood, the plot turns on a developer’s generous offer to convince apartment residents to leave their building so that he can build a luxury tower in its place. The book mines the tricky terrain of the bittersweet and black humor, always teasing out just enough goodness to allow readers a glimmer of hope for humanity. Adiga won the Booker for his debut, The White Tiger, and his new novel shows no signs of a sophomore slump. Last Man in Tower glides along with a sprawling cast of characters, including the teeming city of Mumbai itself. . . . With wit and observation, Adiga gives readers a well-rounded portrait of Mumbai in all of its teeming, bleating, inefficient glory. In one delightful aside, Adiga notes the transition beyond middle age with a zinger of a question: ‘What would he do with his remaining time—the cigarette stub of years left to a man already in his 60s?'. . . Adiga never settles for the grand epiphany or the tidy conclusion. In a line worthy of John Irving, Adiga writes: ‘A man’s past keeps growing, even when his future has come to a full stop.’” —Erik Spanberg, Christian Science Monitor
“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. . . . Adiga has written the story of a New India; one rife with greed and opportunism, underpinned by the daily struggle of millions in the lower classes. This funny and poignant story is multidimensional, layered with many engaging stories and characters, with Masterji as the hero. He is neither Gandhi nor Christ but an unmistakable, irresistible symbol of integrity and quiet perseverance.” —Valerie Ryan, The Seattle Times
“Epic. . . . Adiga capture[s] the vicious underbelly of modern-day real estate in India’s maximum city. Even more so, he taps into the lives and minds of India’s growing middle class. They inhabit the sphere between the city’s slums and, say, the world’s first billion-dollar home recently built in Bombay, with more square footage than the Palace of Versailles. Like the United States more than a half a century earlier, India is in its ascension, and all the materialism and belligerence about who might be getting left behind is a perfect echo of our Cold War era. The Indians of Adiga’s book yearn for material stability. What that means, how much one really needs to be secure, is at the heart of the story. For the defiant Masterji, [what it means] is the dangerous desire of wanting nothing other than to die in the place where his family’s memories reside.” —Meera Subramanian, Orion Magazine
“Vivid. . . . A novel written by a Man Booker prize winner [comes with] high expectations, [and] Adiga’s latest Last Man in Tower, does not disappoint. He skillfully builds the backdrop for his story. With few words, he sets the scene of poverty and filth in the slums in sharp contrast to the newfound riches made by some in Mumbai, contrasting the new India and its bright technological future with the last remnants of the British Raj. . . . Graphic and colorful . . . thought-provoking and intense.” —Christine Morris Campbell, The Decatur Daily