Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LAST MAN IN TOWER by Aravind Adiga

Mr. Shah, a real estate developer, has made a generous cash offer to the residents of the Vishram Towers in Mumbai.  He will also help them get resettled elsewhere so that he can raze their deteriorating buildings and replace them with new, sparkling, higher-end highrises.  However, not everyone is thrilled.  Masterji, an aging schoolteacher, has memories of his wife and daughter in his home that he stubbornly refuses to abandon.  Mrs. Pinto's eyesight is so poor that she fears she will be unable to adapt to a new place.  The others, however, are excited by the prospect of being able to send money to loved ones or hire a nurse for a disabled child.  What ensues is a power struggle, and Masterji in particular proves to be a master at standing his ground.  Plus, he only grows more intransigent as his neighbors pull all sorts of shenanigans to persuade him to change his mind.  Mr. Shah, who certainly has powers of persuasion of another ilk, is reluctant to damage his fairly admirable reputation.  He realizes, too, that the other residents want Masterji to go along with the change as much, if not more, than Shah himself does.  This is their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get ahead, and Masterji is clearly standing in their way.  Meanwhile, Shah has issues of his own, with an ambitious girlfriend and a teenage son who is constantly in trouble with the law for graffiti and vandalism.  While Shah is bent on urban renewal, his son is defacing the same type of buildings that Shah is putting up.  I think this book is supposed to be about greed, but I think the author missed his mark.  I sided solidly with the other residents in their quest for a better life, until things started getting out of hand.  Even then, I shared their desperation.

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