From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This short story collection, teeming with life in the small Indian city of Kittur between the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and that of her son Rajiv in 1991, serves as a prelude to Adiga's Booker Prize–winning The White Tiger
. Loosely based on a tourist itinerary, the stories meander through the lives of a motley array of hoykas and Brahmins, Muslims and Christians. We meet Xerox, the peddler of illegally copied books who doesn't mind having been arrested 21 times, as this seems a step up from his father's work as an excrement shoveler. Then there is Jayamma: the eighth of nine daughters, she is sent out to work because her father had only enough money to marry off six daughters. Her only comfort is getting high on DDT fumes and rubbing the buttocks of a tiny idol of baby Krishna. Adiga's India is a place of wildly disparate fortunes, where a 500-rupee meal at the Oberoi Hotel in Bombay scandalizes a construction worker who marvels at the sight of a 20-rupee note. It's a gruesome picture of existence, and the small epiphanies hit like bricks from heaven. (June)
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Inspired by Balzac's La Comedie Humaine
, Adiga intended to write a portrait of Indian life; as such, place and theme, rather than characters, tie together these 14 stories. Each starts with a travel vignette -- a daylong walk around a different section of Kittur -- that introduces the town. But, as he did in The White Tiger
, Adiga soon delves deeper to focus on class and caste inequalities and characters "paralyzed by their powerlessness" (Newsweek
). His meticulous descriptions of men, women, and children from all walks of life offer insight into modern India, one where few such as these experience redemption. Some reviewers commented on the unevenness of the stories and the lack of overall plot, but all agreed on Adiga's important role as "a sensitive chronicler of modern India" (Telegraph