After a collection of short stories, Between the Assassinations, Adiga comes back to the novel form, setting Last Man in Tower in Mumbai, where real estate can be the fast track to riches.
In Last Man in Tower, India has not changed much in the three years following Adiga’s debut novel The White Tiger, which garnered him the Booker Prize. The story takes place in the buildings (known as “towers”) of the Vishram Cooperative Society. Set in the suburb of Vakola, the residential complex becomes a target for developers as the area gentrifies and appreciates in value.
When Masterji resists the overture of the developers, he dies under mysterious circumstances. The cover-up by the perpetrators and their attempts to label his death as a suicide makes the reader question if the moral compass of modern Mumbai is completely broken, though one must admit that there is plenty of cinematic precedence for that kind of behavior.
Adiga does not leave us with this bleak conclusion. There is at least one other man who refuses to barter his freedom to choose where he wants to live. Adiga’s portrayal of his characters shows them as flawed but not without humanity. Ajwani, the broker, feels guilty even though he does not participate in the murder of Masterji. The Puris are good citizens who accept the deal because they have an 18-year-old son with Down Syndrome, and need the money for his medical care. Money corrupts these ordinary people with normal lives and aspirations even as they experience feelings of guilt and sorrow over the death of the last honest man in their midst.
Unlike the cynicism of White Tiger, here Adiga seems to suggest that one individual can make a difference, even if it is only in the hearts and minds of the people he leaves behind.
Lakshmi Mani writes on American and Indian-American literature, and is a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow.