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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adiga: Eye of an Eagle, Heart of a Lover
I'll be the fool that treads where the critic-angels may fear to go: with Aravind Adiga's White Tiger debut, and his Between the Assassinations encore, we are being invited to witness the birth of a literary superstar. My argument is a brief one: White Tiger (which I loved) won the 2008 Man Booker Prize; Between the Assassinations is deeper, richer, even better...
Published on July 18, 2009 by Daniel Murphy

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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well-observed, but predictable, shallow, complicit short fiction
There is enough to recommend this collection of short stories as a pleasant read, written with a nice eye for detail, but this is neither great literature nor profound social thought. Adiga's stories offer us a collection of day-in-the-life looks at different strata, different castes, cultures, religions, and classes of people in the town of "Kittur," in Karnataka...
Published on July 20, 2009 by Anonymous


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adiga: Eye of an Eagle, Heart of a Lover, July 18, 2009
This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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I'll be the fool that treads where the critic-angels may fear to go: with Aravind Adiga's White Tiger debut, and his Between the Assassinations encore, we are being invited to witness the birth of a literary superstar. My argument is a brief one: White Tiger (which I loved) won the 2008 Man Booker Prize; Between the Assassinations is deeper, richer, even better.

What makes Between the Assassinations superior literature as well as an absorbingly pleasurable (superior and pleasurable are NOT necessarily synonymous!) read? Several qualities, starting with Adiga's ability to describe his homeland of India with the eye of an eagle, and the heart of a lover. In vivid, accessible, witty, fast-moving prose, the author describes life in an Indian city with a vision that is clear, but not jaundiced, realistic but not morose.

Between the Assassinations is a collection of fourteen stories that describe one week in the life of Kittur, a city with enough diversity of culture, language, and religion to give Adiga an ample backdrop for stories about inter-faith tension, caste, corruption, gentility, quiet heroism, lost love, environmental devastation, the struggle (and, at times, the smoldering rage) of the abysmally poor, and spectacular irony. The stories are strung like glittering stones on a necklace: each tale distinct, the strong thread of human life in Kittur connecting all. One story involves a Muslim child, ejected from his rural family to fend for himself during the dry season. On his arrival in Kittur, looking for employment, he states "I'm a Muslim, sir, we don't do hanky-panky." How does this creed play out in the face of sleeping on the street and flirting with outright starvation? The ending surprised me. Another story involves a banker in a charming and childless marriage who repeatedly turns down promotions to Bombay in order to, in part, take pleasure in a secret spot in Kittur's last remaining forest, Bajpe. The protagonist, Giridhar Rao's house is on the edge of Bajpe, and Adiga writes that relatives and residents of the neighborhood "were usually up on their terraces or balconies, enjoying the cool breezes that blew from the forest in the evening. Guests and hosts together watched as herons, eagles, and kingfishers flew in and out of the darkening mass of trees, like ideas circulating around an immense brain. The sun, when it plunged behind the forest, burned orange and ocher through the interstices of the foliage, as if peering out of the trees and the observers had the distinct impression that they were being observed in return." A third story involves a bright, rich, but low caste student at St. Alfonso High School detonating a bomb in class. Struggling with the rough draft of his note to the authorities, he writes "I have burst a bomb to end the five-thousand-year-old caste system that still operates in our country". The effects of the bomb are more comical than lethal (the chemistry teacher, struggling with his congenital inability to use the letter F, shouts red-faced "Puckers! You Puckers"), with the caste system emerging as deadlier than the incident itself.

One challenge issued to Adiga: Your male characters are often exquisitely wrought, your female characters.....are less so.

Is this book for everyone? Nope. It's not India Lite. When Adiga's eye sweeps the physical and human landscape of his country it is as unblinking as a video surveillance camera. The images are as beautiful as nature itself, and occasionally as stark as a bruised child or as revolting as a stream of human waste. India is the world's largest democracy, and an emerging economic superpower, almost reason enough to read these wonderful stories about our half-a-world-away neigbhor. In the end, many readers may be haunted knowing that the relevance of these stories does not know geographical, ethnic, or economic boundaries.

A characteristic I look for in a five star piece of work is the "lingering image test". A week after laying Between the Assassinations down, the herons and eagles of Bajpe mingle in my mind with Kittur's homeless having to pay money to Brother to secure a spot of dirt that they can sleep on at night. Test passed.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The real India behind the guidebooks..., June 26, 2009
By 
M&M (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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I should start by saying that I have not read Adiga's first book, "The White Tiger", so I can't make any comparisons. "Between the Assassinations" is a collection interrelated vignettes with the common element that they are all about people who live in the small town of Kittur. Chapters begin with a brief guidebook-like description of a landmark or area of the town. What follows each of these is a story about the struggles of the people who live there as they deal with issues of religion, caste, poverty and corruption. It's as if the author has said "Now let me tell you the real story behind the pleasant guidebook description."
One story is about a man who owns a shirt factory. He is in despair about the bribes he is required to pay to a multitude of city officials in order to keep the factory open. At the same time he wonders if he should keep it running because the intricate sewing the women do is making them go blind. In this story, one of the characters says, "When it comes to three things - black marketing, counterfeiting and corruption, we are world champions. If they were included in the Olympic Games, India would always win gold, silver and bronze in those three."
While I found most of the stories profoundly sad, I would recommend this book if you want a glimpse of the real India. It is a country of such contradictions -- beauty and ugliness, amazing progress and ancient ingrained prejudices. Adiga has the talent of telling his characters' stories with compassion while never passing judgement on them.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A collection of short stories worth reading, July 15, 2009
By 
Robert P. Inverarity (Silicon Valley, California, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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A short collection of somewhat interrelated short stories set in a supposedly fictional city (closely based on Mangalore?) in the Karnataka state of India that never fails to be interesting, but feels as if it falls just short of enlightening.

A few of the short stories stand out as ambiguous and haunting: the story of a young Muslim boy who finds a job watching trains, the story of a privileged young man who toys with a little harmless nihilistic violence, and the story of the lesser half of an extremely small radical Communist party who is forced to confront the end of Communism and by extension what his life has meant. They're the sort of short stories that burrow into your mind and pop unbidden into your mind for years to come. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of all of them.

What's funny is that I can't think of any stories that I disliked. From the little girl, sweetly dedicated to her undeserving father and quite wicked and foul-mouthed to others, to the newspaper reporter who finds quite another world than the one he had been writing about, to the day-laborers who are mercilessly betrayed by fate, the characters do feel realistic and worth knowing. Many of the stories do not depict epiphanies or moments of action, though - quite a few do seem to describe an average day or week in the life of the characters.

I quite liked Adiga's writing, which is unsentimental and very direct, though not simple or minimalist. The closely-observed personal interactions are of particularly high quality. His penchant for black humor and picturesque turns of phrase makes for very entertaining reading in short spurts despite the dark and embittering subject matter. With extended reading, though, the sordidness and negativity tend to pile up and run together, leaving the reader emotionally exhausted and a bit queasy.

One weakness of the book is that the short stories do not seem to tie into one another meaningfully, thematically or in terms of plot. At the end, you do not feel as though a thread of plot has tied all the stories together. There's nothing wrong with that itself, but Adiga starts in that direction early in the book by having important characters reappear between stories. That it is suggested then abandoned feels sloppy. Though the travel guide excerpts (and the way the stories subvert them) help connect the stories, I just thought it could have been a little more cohesive. Perhaps more will fall into place with re-reading.

I'm skeptical that the book conveys the "true" India, or even the "real" Karnataka. From what I hear from Indian friends (mostly from the bordering but very different state of Tamil Nadu), corruption really is as widespread and poverty as much of a scourge as is depicted here. Nevertheless, I don't think that's any more real than the brighter side: of improvements in literacy, education, and the average standard of living through those years.

(It's worth noting that several of my criticisms above are discussed and addressed by the author - not through flashy fourth-wall-breaking, but very naturally in the course of the stories.)

This isn't a sociological text or a political tract, though, but a work of literature. It is interesting, worthwhile reading - not a great book, but truly a good book.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well-observed, but predictable, shallow, complicit short fiction, July 20, 2009
This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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There is enough to recommend this collection of short stories as a pleasant read, written with a nice eye for detail, but this is neither great literature nor profound social thought. Adiga's stories offer us a collection of day-in-the-life looks at different strata, different castes, cultures, religions, and classes of people in the town of "Kittur," in Karnataka. Though the stories are thinly connected by the conceit that all are portions of a tourist guide, which we get a few paragraphs of before each story, the conceit comes off as nothing more than a thin joke and there are no more substantial connections to draw -- so this is really just an anthology of short stories.

The trouble is that these stories are very predictable and very similar, from one to the next: each one hews closely to the formula of classic New Yorker short fiction, in which a small, almost always sad emotional revelation, but little change in the situation, is the payoff of each narrative; they are ultimately rather dull to read as a result of the lack of variety. Further and more troublingly, the large majority of the stories indulge in dubious exoticism (I guess this means the tour-guide conceit is meant as self-parody, but it doesn't seem to signal any deep awareness of the problem) -- and all but one or two of the stories are disturbingly self-congratulatory in aestheticizing the poverty of their subjects. As we read along, the stories allow us simultaneously to furrow our brows at the sadness of rural-Indian poverty and to pat ourselves on the back for recognizing it -- but each story ends predictably in stasis, with each poor character's efforts at economic betterment thwarted, so it seems Adiga expects his readers to congratulate themselves for recognizing that change is futile! "The poor ye shall always have with you" makes for a quietist, profoundly conservative pro-status-quo moral, but that is the moral to each one of these deceptively realistic-seeming, competently observed and crafted fables. And they are ultimately just that, despite the veil of naturalism: conservative fables about the necessity of poverty, written by a former staffer for the Financial Times. Status-quo readers may be pleased with Adiga, but it ultimately reflects very badly on his Western readership that these are the new hot fictions from the subcontinent. I'd suggest that interested readers stick with Arundhati Roy instead, both for better literary craft and for more hopeful, less complicit politics.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between the Assassinations, July 1, 2009
This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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I really enjoyed this collection of stories set in a fictional southern Indian town, Kittur. The stories are mostly bleak and morose. Adiga's characters face life with the fatalistic belief that nothing will ever change for them. They are stuck in a cycle that they know they will never escape. Some are angry, some are resigned, and some (very few) are hopeful in tone. But the main character, throughout all the stories, is India, in all her guts and glory. While I enjoyed some stories in this collection more than others, they all moved me in some way. The characters are vivid, true and wonderfully three-dimensional for the forty or so pages they are given.

And the language is so lush- Kittur, India really comes to life- the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells. Some of the sentences just struck a chord. For example, "She lay in the storage room, seeking comfort in the fumes of the DDT and the sight of the Baby Krishna's silver buttocks." Or, "The centerpiece of his body was a massive potbelly, a hard knot of flesh pregnant with a dozen cardiac arrests." It was so much fun to read a whole book full of sentences like these. Adiga creates characters you can cheer for, and writes in such a beautiful manner that you will want this one for your keeper shelves. Highly recommended!

Also, if you like this book, I'd highly recommend In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. It is set in Pakistan in the 1970s and is also excellent.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between the Assassinations - very good read, August 12, 2009
By 
Sudarshan Karkada (Missouri City, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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I have not read Mr. Adiga's "The White Tiger." In fact I got interested in the book only after listening to the review on NPR one evening.

This book is basically a compilation of many short stories, but interestingly they all happen in the same town/city in India during certain period.

Having born and brought up in a similar town, I can relate to much of what goes on in these stories. There were numerous instances when I would stop reading and remember a similar incident that happened in my own life. In other words, even though these are only stories, they are accurate depictions of how things were in a small town in India in those years.

However, every one of the stories imply that there was only sadness, cinicism, hardship, and despair. That is definitely not what I remember!

Overall a good book and I recommend it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very clever collection of short stories, July 20, 2009
By 
G. Dawson (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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This collection of short stories cleverly masquerades as a travel guide to the Indian town of Kittur, a fictional town of 193,432 residents located "on India's southwestern coast, between Goa and Calicut, and almost equidistant from the two." The book opens with a map of Kittur, labeled with the town's streets, neighborhoods, and other landmarks, and the stories are named after these points of interest (e.g., The Railway Station, Lighthouse Hill, and Salt Market Village). Each story takes place "between the assassinations" of Indira Gandhi (1984) and Rajiv Gandhi (1991) and begins with a brief overview of the history and significance of the titular landmark written in the deadpan prose of a travel guide:
"The famous Kittamma Devi Temple, a modern structure built in the Tamil style, stands on the site where an ancient shrine to the goddess is believed to have existed. It is within walking distance of the train station, and is often the first port of call for visitors to the town."

Adiga's unobtrusive prose is peppered with just the right amount of sparkling phrases ("sunburned leaves" or "laminated" skies) to highlight its laudable restraint. The subtle cross-references and shared setting of these stories provide a kind of satisfying coherence often lacking in short story collections. This coherence, coupled with Adiga's accomplished writing, almost makes up for the fact that too many of these stories lack sufficient direction. Without noticeable narrative arcs, some stories read more like random, surreptitious glimpses into ongoing lives. The glimpses are interesting but not as alive as they could be.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, August 29, 2009
By 
Aderyn (Small-Town Michigan, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Between the Assassinations (Hardcover)
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In the vein of Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize-winning "White Tiger," "Between the Assassinations" provides the reader with a panoramic view of India in transformation between the assassinations of Indira Ghandi in the early 1980s and Rajiv Ghandi, her son, less than 10 years later. The novel is set in Kittur, a town big enough to include slums and mansions, private schools and factories, but small enough for each character's story to intersect with the others. The dioramas unfold as the narrator conducts a proposed 7-day tour of Kittur for the reader, from the railway station to the pornographic Angel Talkies theater, the Bunder criminal district to the Salt Market, with stops for us to learn some of the history and meet the neighborhood inhabitants.

"Between the Assassinations" examines the balance of power in Indian: The factory owner who knows the work he demands ultimately blinds his employees, but who also knows they will survive by doing the same work elsewhere if he doesn't demand it, and who in turn is crippled by the bribes demanded by Kittur officials to keep the factory open; the respected servant who sneers at the servants he sees as beneath him and dares think his Christian employer might view him as equal; the beggar who prides himself on his Muslim unwillingness to participate in "hanky panky" but will commit treason for an iota of respect; the father who supports his family in any way possible but demands that his young daughter procure the drugs he needs to face his life; the liberal minds who manage to believe simultaneously in equality and that caste will always out.

This book was actually written before "White Tiger" but, as so often happens, did not find a publisher and an audience until after the release of the prize-winning former. Nevertheless, it is at least as powerful and revealing, if not more so. Although its vision is sometimes a bleak one, it's a fascinating behind the scenes look at the challenges faced by an ancient nation poised to become a world player in the global economy. These stories will stay with you and inform your view of India for a long time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing form, January 6, 2012
Aravind Adiga's White Tiger won the Booker Prize and was notable for its intriguing form. I thought it would be a hard act to follow. It would need a great writer to be able to make a repeat match of both originality and style with engaging content. So on beginning Between The Assassinations I was prepared to be disappointed. I need not have worried because Aravind Adiga's 2010 novel is perhaps a greater success than the earlier prize winner.

The novel does not have a linear plot, nor does it feature any resolution to satisfy the kind of reader that needs a story. But it does have its stories, several of them. Between The Assassinations is in fact a set of short stories, albeit related, rather than a novel. But the beauty of the form is that the book sets these different and indeed divergent tales in a single place, a fictitious town called Kittur.

It's on India's west coast, south of Goa and north of Cochin. Kittur presents the expected mix of religion, caste and class that uniquely yet never definitively illustrate Indian society. And by means of stories that highlight cultural, linguistic and social similarities and differences, Aravind Adiga paints a compelling and utterly vivid picture of life in the town. The observation that this amalgam both influences and in some ways determines these experiences is what makes Between The Assassinations a novel rather than a set of stories. It is the place and its culture that is the main character.

The title gives the setting in time. The book's material thus spans the years between the assassinations of the two Ghandis, Indira and Rajiv. So it is the 1980s, and politics, business, marriage, love, loyalty, development, change and corruption all figure. Aravind Adiga's juxtaposition of themes to be found in Kittur town and society thus leads us through times of questioning, rapid change and wealth creation. The book's major success is that this conducted tour of recent history never once leads the reader where the reader does not willingly want to go. The stories are vivid, the personal relationships intriguing, the settings both informative and challenging.

Between The Assassinations is a remarkable achievement. The author has succeeded in writing a thoroughly serious novel with strong intellectual threads via a set of related stories that can each be enjoyed at face value, just as stories, if that is what the reader wants. Writing rarely gets as sophisticated as this or indeed as enjoyable, since humour, often rather barbed, is always close to the surface. Between The Assassinations is a wonderful achievement.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slices of Life in India, August 18, 2010
These are essentially short stories tied together by locale (the fictional city of Kittur, India) and time frame: the years between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. This time line is revealed at the end in a chronology that mentions the backdrops in which some of the stories are set. Some characters (or at least their names) have cameos in stories other than their own, but except for place and time, the stories don't interlock.

Paid work is scarce and those at the bottom of the economic and caste system have to put forth extraordinary effort to eke out a subsistence life. Characters such bicycle deliverymen, construction workers, food booth workers, house servants, etc., are shown to be forever trapped in not just hard work but also humiliating circumstances as well. Business owners and professionals don't fare much better. Abbasi, the employer of women who will go blind from the work and the journalist, Gururaj, obsess about the ethical violations necessary to their respective incomes.

Women have the least control over their lives. Lack of opportunity and manipulative families keep single women such as Soumya and Jayamma constantly humiliated in everyday, abusive situations. Other single women must passively wait (the stress of which is not explored) for someone to make a deal for their marriage. Fathers are not obliged to check out the groom, as did Ratnakara Shetty. A good marriage doesn't mean happiness; the stress of "marrying up" is explored in an early chapter.

The stories convey the author's grim view of life in India. In his view, everyone is trapped and the poor bear the brunt of a corrupt system. Only a few characters have a reasonable level of contentment, but even their stories are mixed. Giridhar Roa enjoys stimulating conversation but craves tranquility at what appears to be the last natural spot near Kittur. Mrs. Gomes can take two baths a day, but her husband has chosen to live abroad without her.

This book could be strengthened if they were tied together more strongly. It started out with a few recurring names and the concept of a demonstration, but none of this was developed. Later stories fully stand alone. While this volume complements Adiga's Booker Prize winning The White Tiger: A Novel (Man Booker Prize), it does not equal it.
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Between the Assassinations
Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga (Hardcover - June 9, 2009)
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