Two strong-willed men, a developer and a holdout, propel this gripping second novel about real estate, greed and community in Mumbai (Bombay), India; Adiga won the Man Booker prize for his debut (The White Tiger, 2008).
There’s a building in Mumbai we get to know as well as the two protagonists. Vishram Society Tower A is an unremarkable six-story structure a stone’s throw from the Vakola slums. Water supply is poor. Pests necessitate visits from the “seven-kinds-of-vermin” man. Still, the building has class. The residents of this co-op are middle-class professionals, respectable people typified by Yogesh Murthy, known as Masterji, the 61-year-old retired physics teacher and recent widower. Mr. Shah is the far from respectable but hugely successful builder. His is a rags-to-riches story; starting with smuggling and slum clearance, he’s now at the top of the heap. Vishram’s two towers’ proximity to the financial center attract his attention. They must be demolished to make way for his magnificent new project. Shah’s buyout offer is generous, but it comes with a strict deadline; acceptance must be unanimous. There are four no votes. Masterji votes no as an act of solidarity with his dear friends the Pintos, an old married couple. Then they’re threatened, and suddenly 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. Really, what choice do his neighbors have? 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.