A satirical novel set in the author’s native Mumbai, where Indian boys from the slums find themselves hot commodities because of their potential in cricket.
Even readers who know nothing about the sport will find this as easy to understand as if it were a novel about American inner-city kids groomed for success in basketball, facing long odds as an escape from poverty. In the third novel by Adiga, who won the Man Booker Prize for his debut (The White Tiger, 2008), the protagonist is Manju, 7 years old at the outset, overshadowed by the cricket prowess of his older brother. An influential gatekeeper and columnist named Tommy Sir sees potential in both boys, bringing them to the attention of a venture capitalist. The boys’ father also sees the commercial potential in his sons and wants to maximize his percentage, holding them to rules he enforces strictly, even when they don’t make much sense. The older son, Radha, is the first to rebel, “now conscious that his father’s rules, which had framed the world around him since he could remember, were prison bars.” Manju thus becomes the hope for the family and perhaps Mumbai, where young cricketers show the possibility of “creating new value in a dead city.” But the younger brother faces plenty of coming-of-age challenges of his own, as cricket must compete with a potential girlfriend, with his interest in forensic science as nurtured by CSI, and, most of all, by a boy from a patrician background who also forsakes cricket but has options that the much poorer Manju does not. “He’s my real father,” says Manju of the richer friend he tries to emulate, before sexual identity as well as class distinction complicate the picture. As Manju tries to figure out who he really is and what he wants, the author suggests that “this Republic (so-called) of India, was filled to the brim with the repressed, depressed, and dangerous.”
Incisive and often wickedly funny as social commentary, though many characters are more like caricatures and the finale doesn’t resolve much.