From the Booker Prize–winning author of The White Tiger, a stunning novel of greed and murder in contemporary Mumbai.
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 luxury building named the Shanghai. Larger-than-life Shah is a dangerous man to refuse. But he meets his match in retired schoolteacher Masterji. Shah offers a generous buyout to Masterji and his neighbors in a once respectable, now crumbling apartment building on whose site Shah’s high-rise would be built. 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.
Excerpted from Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga. Copyright © 2011 by Aravind Adiga. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Aravind Adiga is the author of The White Tiger, which was awarded the 2008 Man Booker Prize, and a collection of stories, Between the Assassinations. He was born in India and attended Columbia and Oxford universities. He is a former correspondent for Time magazine whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Sunday Times (London), and the Financial Times, among other publications. He lives in India.
A Best Book of the Year:
The Boston Globe
The Daily Beast
“Brilliant. . . . If you loved the movie Slumdog Millionaire, you will inhale the novel Last Man in Tower. Adiga’s second novel is even better than the superb White Tiger. . . . First-rate. . . . You simply do not realize how anemic most contemporary fiction is until you read Adiga’s muscular prose. His plots don’t unwind, they surge.”
“Provocative and decadent. . . . The kind of novel that’s so richly insightful . . . it’s hard to know where to begin singing its praises. . . . Vain, shrewd and stubborn, [Masterji] is one of the most delightfully contradictory characters to appear in recent fiction.”
—The Washington Post
“Masterful. . . . 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.”
“Adiga has written the story of a New India. . . . This funny and poignant story is multidimensional, layered with many engaging stories and characters.”
—The Seattle Times
“A rare achievement. . . . 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.”
“With wit and observation, Adiga gives readers a well-rounded portrait of Mumbai in all of its teeming, bleating, inefficient glory. . . . Like any good novelist, Adiga’s story lingers because it nestles in the heart and the head.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“Last Man in Tower is a nuanced study of human nature in all of its complexity and mystery. (It is also humane and funny.) Nothing is quite as it seems in the novel, which makes for surprises both pleasant and disturbing.”
“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.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Adiga maps out in luminous prose India’s ambivalence toward its accelerated growth, while creating an engaging protagonist . . . a man whose ambition and independence have been tempered with an understanding of the important, if almost imperceptible, difference between development and progress.”
“[An] adroit, ruthless and sobering novel. . . . Adiga peppers his universally relevant tour de force with brilliant touches, multiple ironies and an indictment of our nature.”
—The Star Ledger
“Adiga is an exceptionally talented novelist, and the subtlety with which he presents the battle between India’s aspirants and its left-behind poor is exceptional.”
“A brilliant examination of the power of money. . . . Ultimately Last Man in Tower is about how greed affects compassion. . . . Adiga skillfully unfolds a surprising conclusion that underscores what a great novel this is.”
“[Full of] acute observations and sharp imagery. . . . Like all cautionary tales, it embodies more than a little truth about our times.”
“Dickensian. . . . Well worth the time of any reader interested in the circumstances of life in a seemingly foreign place that turns out to be awfully familiar. . . . Readers above all else will find pleasure and pain in the ups and downs of the human family itself.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
1. What are some of the major themes of the novel? How does Adiga set them forth even in the first pages through his description of Vishram Society? What do you think the banyan tree symbolizes?
2. The novel begins, “If you are inquiring about Vishram Society, you will be told right away that it is pucca—absolutely, unimpeachably pucca.” What does the word pucca mean? Why is this fact about Vishram important to the story?
3. How does Adiga use humor as social commentary?
4. On page 7, there is a quote adapted from the Bhagavad Gita: “I was never born and I will never die; I do not hurt and cannot be hurt; I am invincible, immortal, indestructible.” Which characters in the novel seem to feel this way?
5. Why is Masterji so respected at the beginning of the novel? How would he be treated in the United States?
6. According to Masterji, his wife’s favorite saying was “ ‘Man is like a goat tied to a pole.’ Meaning, all of us have some free will but not too much” (page 41). Does this prove true for him?
7. There are dozens of scenes that revolve around food. What do the characters’ eating habits tell us about them?
8. Is Dharmen Shah a villain? What are his intentions? Who else might be considered a villain in the story?
9. Discuss Masterji’s friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Pinto. Does envy come into play? How does the offer change their relationship?
10. What is the symbolism behind Mr. Kothari’s flamingos? What are some of the other characters’ influential memories?
11. There are several instances of betrayal in the novel. Whose struck you as most shocking?
12. The offer brings out many different emotions and reactions from the residents of Vishram. In general, how is the reaction of the women different from that of the men in the building?
13. Several of the characters have children, Masterji included. How does their role as parents influence their decision-making? How does parenting in the novel’s modern-day India compare to parenting in the United States?
14. After reading the sign his neighbors have posted criticizing him, Masterji thinks, “A man is what his neighbours say he is” (page 196). Is this true in the novel? How does that notion affect Masterji? Do you think the neighbors’ opinions were entirely new or had just lain dormant until he refused the offer?
15. What role does class play in the story? How does the neighbors’ treatment of Mary and Ram Khare reflect their attitudes in general?
16. Why do you think Mr. Pinto changes his mind about accepting the offer? Is it only about the money or are there other reasons as well?
17. When Shah hears the news about Masterji, he says, “ ‘I thought it would be a push down the stairs, or a beating at night. That’s all…I forgot we were dealing with good people’” (pages 358–359). What does he mean?
18. Why does Ajwani refuse to sign?
19. The last line of the novel is, “Nothing can stop a living thing that wants to be free.” What is this referring to?
20. Why doesn’t Masterji just agree to sell? What would you have done?