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Last Man in Tower
Cover of Last Man in Tower
Last Man in Tower
Borrow Borrow
The magnificent new novel from the million-selling Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger: one of the most eagerly anticipated literary novels of 2011—"a kaleidoscopic portrait of a changing Mumbai."
Guardian (Best Books of 2011)
Ask any Bombaywallah about Vishram Society—Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society—and you will be told that it is unimpeachably pucca. Despite its location close to the airport, under the flight path of 747s and bordered by slums, it has been pucca for some fifty years. But Bombay has changed in half a century—not least its name—and the world in which Tower A was first built is giving way to a new city; a Mumbai of development and new money; of wealthy Indians returning with fortunes made abroad.
When real estate developer Dharmen Shah offers to buy out the residents of Vishram Society, planning to use the site to build a luxury apartment complex, his offer is more than generous. Initially, though, not everyone wants to leave; many of the residents have lived in Vishram for years, and many of them are no longer young. But none can benefit from the offer unless all agree to sell. As tensions rise among the once civil neighbours, one by one those who oppose the offer give way to the majority, until only one man stands in Shah's way: Masterji, a retired schoolteacher, once the most respected man in the building. Shah is a dangerous man to refuse, but as the demolition deadline looms, Masterji's neighbours—friends who have become enemies, acquaintances turned co-conspirators—may stop at nothing to score their payday.
A suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation, and a rich tapestry peopled by unforgettable characters, not least of which is Bombay itself, Last Man in Tower opens up the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of a great city—ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none.
This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
The magnificent new novel from the million-selling Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger: one of the most eagerly anticipated literary novels of 2011—"a kaleidoscopic portrait of a changing Mumbai."
Guardian (Best Books of 2011)
Ask any Bombaywallah about Vishram Society—Tower A of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society—and you will be told that it is unimpeachably pucca. Despite its location close to the airport, under the flight path of 747s and bordered by slums, it has been pucca for some fifty years. But Bombay has changed in half a century—not least its name—and the world in which Tower A was first built is giving way to a new city; a Mumbai of development and new money; of wealthy Indians returning with fortunes made abroad.
When real estate developer Dharmen Shah offers to buy out the residents of Vishram Society, planning to use the site to build a luxury apartment complex, his offer is more than generous. Initially, though, not everyone wants to leave; many of the residents have lived in Vishram for years, and many of them are no longer young. But none can benefit from the offer unless all agree to sell. As tensions rise among the once civil neighbours, one by one those who oppose the offer give way to the majority, until only one man stands in Shah's way: Masterji, a retired schoolteacher, once the most respected man in the building. Shah is a dangerous man to refuse, but as the demolition deadline looms, Masterji's neighbours—friends who have become enemies, acquaintances turned co-conspirators—may stop at nothing to score their payday.
A suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation, and a rich tapestry peopled by unforgettable characters, not least of which is Bombay itself, Last Man in Tower opens up the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of a great city—ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none.
This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    If you are inquiring about Vishram Society, you will be told right away that it is pucca--absolutely, unimpeachably pucca. This is important to note, because something is not quite pucca about the neighbourhood--the toenail of Santa Cruz called Vakola. On a map of Mumbai, Vakola is a cluster of ambiguous dots that cling polyp-like to the underside of the domestic airport; on the ground, the polyps turn out to be slums, and spread out on every side of Vishram Society.At each election, when Mumbai takes stock of herself, it is reported that one-fourth of the city's slums are here, in the vicinity of the airport--and many older Bombaywallahs are sure anything in or around Vakola must be slummy. (They are not sure how you even ­pronounce it: Va-KHO-la, or VAA-k'-la?) In such a questionable neighbourhood, Vishram Society is anchored like a dreadnought of middle-class respectability, ready to fire on anyone who might impugn the pucca quality of its inhabitants. For years it was the only good building--which is to say, the only registered co-operative society--in the neighbourhood; it was erected as an experiment in gentrification back in the late 1950s, when Vakola was semi-swamp, a few bright ­mansions amidst mangroves and malarial clouds. Wild boar and bands of dacoits were rumoured to prowl the banyan trees, and rickshaws and taxis refused to come here after sunset. In gratitude to Vishram Society's pioneers, who defied bandits and anopheles mosquitoes, braved the dirt lane on their cycles and Bajaj scooters, cut down the trees, built a thick ­compound wall and hung signs in English on it, the local ­polit­icians have decreed that the lane that winds down from the main road to the front gate of the building be called "Vishram Society Lane."

    The mangroves are long gone. Other middle-class buildings have come up now--the best of these, so local real-estate brokers say, is Gold Coin Society, but Marigold, Hibiscus, and White Rose grow and grow in reputation--and with the recent arrival of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, a five-star, the area is on the verge of ripening into permanent middle-class propriety. Yet none of this would have been possible without Vishram Society, and the grandmotherly building is spoken of with reverence throughout the neighbourhood.

    It is, strictly speaking, two distinct Societies enclosed within the same compound wall. Vishram Society Tower B, which was erected in the late 1970s, stands in the south-east corner of the original plot: seven storeys tall, it is the more desirable building to purchase or rent in, and many young executives who have found work in the nearby Bandra-Kurla financial complex live here with their families.

    Tower A is what the neighbours think of as "Vishram Society." It stands in the centre of the compound, six storeys tall; a marble block set into the gate-post says in weathered lettering:

    This plaque was unveiled by Shri Krishna Menon, the honourable defence minister of India, on 14 November 1959, birthday of our beloved prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

    Here things become blurry; you must get down on your knees and peer to make out the last lines:

    . . . has asked Menon to convey his fondest hope that Vishram Society should serve as an example of "good housing for good Indians."

    Erected by:

    Members of the Vishram Society Co-operative Housing Society Fully registered and incorporated in the city of Bombay 14-11-1959

    The face of this tower, once pink, is now a rainwater-stained, fungus-licked grey, although veins of primordial pink show wherever the roofing has protected the walls from the monsoon rains. Every flat has iron grilles on the windows:...

About the Author-
  • ARAVIND ADIGA was born in Madras in 1974 and was raised in Australia. He studied at Columbia and Oxford Universities. A former correspondent in India for Time magazine, his articles have also appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the Independent, and the Sunday Times. He lives in Mumbai.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 25, 2011
    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 highly allegorical yet riveting novel, Adiga's first since winning the Man Booker Prize for The White Tiger. Here, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Communists have lived together for decades, finding recent common ground in their suspicions about the new "modern" single 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. But one holdout, the teacher Mr. Masterji, is determined that knowledge and principle will protect him. Though occasionally overwritten ("The hypodermic needle of the outside world had bent at his epidermis and never penetrated"), Adiga is a master of pacing. The momentum builds as Masterji's neighbors become consumed by money, allowing Adiga to show his characters grappling with circumstances, 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 teacher, is at the mercy of them.

  • The Gazette (Montreal) "Last Man in Tower pulls off the bravura twin role of moral parable and human drama."
  • Winnipeg Free Press "He clearly has a knack for arresting novels that marry story and social commentary. . . . Adiga's story of the man who can't be bought is compelling."
  • The Washington Post "Funny, provocative and decadent: Aravind 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."
  • The Economist "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 Sunday Business Post "Epic. . . .Last Man in Tower is like a prime-time soap opera with a social conscience. Dickens has found an heir."
  • New Zealand Herald "This writing is sheer beauty."
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