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Last Man in Tower
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
When does the heartfelt convictions of one solitary man negate the jointly held consensus of the rest of any civic society?

That is the question posed at the center of Aravind Adiga's audacious new novel, an impressive and propulsive examination of the struggle for a slice of prime Mumbai real estate. It is a worthy follow-up to Adiga's Booker Prize novel, White Tiger, as he goes back to the well to explore the changing face of a rapidly growing India.

Adiga pits two flawed men against each other: The first is Dharmen Shah, a burly and self-made real estate mogul who is the "master of things seen and things unseen." Through his left-hand man, the shady Shananmugham, he offers each resident of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society the highest price ever paid for a redevelopment project in the suburb of Vakola.

Just about every resident jumps at the chance to sell - the anxious Ibrahim Kudwa, an Internet-store owner and the only observant Muslim in the neighborly society; social worker Georgina Rego who loathes amoral redevelopers but wants to trump her wealthy sister; Sengeeta Puri, who cares for her son afflicted with Down's Syndrome;Ramesh Ajwani, an ambitious real-estate broker and more.

Only one resident holds out: Masterji, a retired school teacher who lives alone after the recent death of his wife and the death of his daughter. Only here, at Vishram, can he cling to his memories and so he refuses to sell, even when the pot is sweetened...even when he is threatened emotionally and physically. Masterji is the one immutable roadblock between Shah and his legacy.

Whether the reader sympathizes with Masterji - who stands in the way of his neighbors' most audacious dreams, and whose integrity and incorruptibility borders on narcissism - may be equivalent to, say, how each of us felt with the Ralph Nader spoiler in the Bush-Gore election. Was he an honorable man to have taken a stand? Or was he simply an egotist? There is a grudging admiration for Masterji's stand, mixed with an impatience and frustration at how this high-principled man stubbornly torpedoes the will of the majority.

Shah is ruthless but also fair-minded: his price is more than fair. Masterji is principled but tin-eared to his neighbors' pleas as the deadline to accept the offer looms. And as the developer - and his one-time friends - become more and more desperate, the novel cranks up to almost unbearable suspense, with a hint of a Lord of the Flies scenario.

The background to this tension-filled plot is Mumbia itself, where countless workers commute on nightmarishly overstuffed trains, where they all emerge: "fish, birds, the leopards of Borivali, even the starlets and super-models of Bandra, out of the prismatic dreams of Mother Garbage." Here, fetid slums, the most luxurious high-rises of the future, and the temples of old co-exist within a fragile and all-too-often corrupt democracy.

A Dickensian quality pervades this ambitious novel, which fearlessly tackles electrifying themes: what price growth? Will good people risk their humanity when faced with a chance to score a big payday? When does the will of a man who foregos monetary gain resemble selfishness as opposed to virtue? And who can we trust to stand by us when we take a lone stance? This book of contrasts - between a man of finance and a man of virtue (although, of course, it is not as simple as that)...between wealth and squalor... between the old and the new is a tour de force. And it is certain to add to Aravind Adiga's already sterling reputation.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was actually waiting for the Last Man in Tower. After all, The White Tiger was a fantastically written book with a fast paced narration, highlighting the pitfalls of the current system in a simplistic way. When I picked up the hardbound version from the local library, I had no clue as to what the book was based on. I had carefully avoided any reviews of the book to experience the joy of reading the book first hand.

The last man in tower is a simple tale of the travails and journey of a middle class community. Though all the families living in Vishram Society have their own share of happiness and pitfalls, they are drawn together by that one factor, the one factor that can bring together people from different classes of society - money. Mr. Shah, a local builder, makes a fair minded offer to each and every resident of the housing society to buy out their land, and to establish in its place a luxurious residential complex of epic proportions. Mr. Shah is generous enough to offer a price that is well above the current market price of the property. But, his ambition is hampered by a solitary old man, Masterji, who refuses to budge to the financial clout of the builder. It is not the way the builder deals with Masterji that makes the book an interesting read, but it is the way Masterji deals with his neighbors with whom he had spent a significant portion of his life, that makes the book a very compelling read. New found money opens a lot of new opportunities, and when a middle class person is offered never-before-seen kind of sum, it brings to the fore, the inner demon that has been masked in him. The book goes to show that such a person can go to any lengths to achieve his dream. Whether Vishram society members can look forward to a new lease of life by clearing the hurdle posed by Masterji is the essence of this book. At every point, the reader is wondering, "What's going to happen to the Masterji?"

One of the great things about his first book was that, there was no unnecessary elongation of the plot. That cannot be said about his latest venture. The ending was cliched and felt too filmy. I can understand that Mr. Adiga tries to say that human beings can go to any extent in their lust for money, but it could have been handled a touch better. But, overall, one has to say that it was definitely a gripping read, and just like the previous book, there was the right sense of humor thrown in the narration.

Pros:
Gripping read
Characters are well etched out
Fantastic narration
Right mix of humor and suspense

Cons:
The ending felt a bit cliched and stretched out
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The "Tower" is Tower A in the housing complex known as the Vishram Society. It has two Towers, "A" and "B". Tower "B" was seven-storey high and was in good condition, populated by young executives. "A" had six, run down and occupied by poor families with a few units rented out. This was a story about a powerful developer called Shah who wanted to purchase the two towers for re-development. There was no trouble from Tower "B". The value of Tower "A" was between 8,000 to 12,000 rupees per square foot. Shah made an offer of 19,000 rupees om 13 May and gave the occupants until 3 October to accept, making clear that he would not extend the deadline even for a minute. The owners were delirious with joy, but four resisted. One by one succumbed, Mr Pinto, a good friend of Yogesh Murty (known as "Masterji") gave up after he was threatened with physical harm by a lone hired hand. In the end, only Masterji stood in the way of Shah. This is not a spoiler as it would become clear a quarter way into the novel that Masterji would be the lone opposition. Once the reader picks up this book it would be near impossible to put it down to find out how it ended, but this is not a thriller. The strength and beauty of this novel is far greater and deeper than a thriller.

Aravind writes in a simple, clear prose, reflective of the lives he describes in his story and yet he creates beauty through his insight into human nature. Shah describes his own vile self as a climber, "a lizard who climbs up walls that do not belong to him." Guarav, son of Masterji only calls his father when "he smells money on me." Ibrahim Kudwa, who initially opposed the sale only because Masterji did, and he didn't want to be seen rushing to accept Shah's offer because Masterji was described by one of the occupants as "an English Gentleman". Kudwa wanted to be seen in good light. He realized that he became such because of his upbringing - "Instead of a man's soul, he had developed a cockroach's antennae inside him. What did this man think of the way he dressed? What did that man think of his politics? The way he pronounced his English?"

"Last man in Tower" is a novel about dignity and the human spirit. Masterji was 61 years old; his wife and daughter died not long before the event of the Shah. Criss-crossing between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the helpless, the scum of the earth and the salt of the earth Aravind portrayed the divide between them, pointing accusingly but subtly at greed as driving that divide. Masterji, as the man "who wanted nothing" exemplifies the courage to resist the temptation of wealth. His obstinacy rose from neither pride nor the memory of his dead wife and daughter. He probed deep for the reason he fought Shah to the end he was doing it for the poor and the broken people of Vackla; for those worse off then himself; those who have less than nothing. Aravind constructed every one of the principal characters to represent the spectrum of humankind, and by the end of the novel the reader is likely to recognise who he might be - and despair. The hope the author leaves with us in the end is that redemption lies in our own hands.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Your sympathy goes out to Aravind Adiga. Your first novel is a success, selling over a million copies and landing the 2008 Booker. Second novels are hard; bad examples lie thickly on the ground. This novel would have to follow on from The White Tiger, attempt a larger picture of Mumbai society, high and low, and present a greedy developer vs. downtrodden people story, and do it all without becoming a mere 'message novel'. The stakes couldn't seem higher.

Lucky for us, Adiga's talents survive expectation, and deliver more of what he excels at: realistic fables. Unlike many authors who write about India, Adiga shuns the ornamental and the overblown for precision and grit. The milieu is the same - Mumbai, seen from above the heights of its towering new centres of enterprise and commerce, to the slums where headless animals, 'a smear of pink imprinted with a tyre tread, an exclamation mark of blood' slump next to playing infants. He has sympathy for the downtrodden, but seems them clearly; he can present a ruthless developer's backstory with flashes of humanity; he can command variety of character and mood. If not quite an ensemble piece, the novel boasts a a larger cast, and to its benefit. However seemingly unimportant a person may seem, Adiga reminds us how we each carry a piece of our country's story within us, the imprint it makes:

'In old buildings truth is a communal thing, a consensus of opinion. Vishram society retained mementoes, over forty-eight years, of all those who had lived in it; each resident had left a physical record of himself there, like the kerosense handprint made by Rajeev Ajwani on the front wall on the day of his great tae kwon-do victory. If you knew how to read Vishram's walls, you would find them covered with handprints. These handprints were permanent; but they could move; a person's record was alterable. Now Masterji felt the opinion of him that was engraved into the building- in its peeling paint and 40-year old brickwork - shift. As it moved, so did something within his body.'

Thoughts like these keep the novel grounded firmly on the human level, and prevent drifts into weightless symbolism.

My few gripes are that the novels sags in the usual place - i.e. the middle, and that he might have done a little more with the promising material offered by the female tenants of his doomed tower block. (Perhaps, admittedly, Adiga is trying to avoid emulating The Women of Brewster Place.) I would prefer it if Adiga would call the city either 'Mumbai' or 'Bombay', and stick with his choice throughout.

Adiga is India's answer to Maxim Gorky, highlighting social injustice with both unsentimental compassion and an eye as clear and restless as a strobe light. He has nowhere to stay but put.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I could not put this down. I read the 'Last Man' the first time in one sitting. Adiga's style is engaging - piquing my curiosity with the opening sentences of each vignette so I felt forced to continue on to puzzle through what was going on.

The book opens with an intimidating list of the 40 tenants. But don't worry, you'll get to know each of them as you follow the threads of their stories, each dealing in their own way with the dreaded deadline of October 3rd. By that date, everyone in the tower needs to have given their approval of the offer, or nobody gets the windfall from the sale of their apartment. And it's the retired teacher who wanders into the position of being the last man.

I was thrilled with Adiga's vivid portrayal of Mumbai. It's a bit nerdy, I'll admit, but I read this novel with his book in my left hand and GoogleMaps in the right. With the maps you can see their Vakola neighborhood just by the airport under the slums that are shoehorned in by the runways. And Adiga made Bandra sound like heaven with one visit to the shops on Waterfield road. With Google Maps, I could see it too.

His story wrestles with some of the most fundamental angst in our soles. Do we sell our lives and our friendships if the opportunity arose? Days later my brain is still sorting through all of the issues this little community was dealing with.

I've concluded, in part, that I can't come to terms with some of the ideas that kept the teacher from signing the agreement. For example, he convinced himself that if he didn't sign the community would return to the way things were before, despite all the evidence against that. Yet he did have extenuating circumstances that we're to believe led him to deceive himself. Sigh, perhaps.

And even more so, the book's Epilogue felt rushed. While Adiga gives us glimpses of everyone's life after the signing date, he doesn't take the time to help us get back in touch with each of our 40 heros. We used to know how they felt about everything .. the floods .. the police .. their friends. And at the Epilogue, we're just left with a snapshot instead of revisiting their feelings.

Nevertheless, this was a captivating book that I'd highly recommend. Twice. That is, once you let Adiga drag you from scene to scene and rush to finish the book, pick it up again and give it the immersion time it deserves.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
How can an entertaining novel be a disappointing one? Answer: The author is Aravind Adiga, who also wrote the White Tiger, one of my ten favorite novels of all time and a masterpiece of contemporary literature. If anybody else had written this novel I would have just looked at it as a good book that teaches a great deal about the conflicts and problems caused by economic development and social change in contemporary India. But Last Man in Tower lacks the delicious sense of irony and brilliant character development that were conjured up so abundantly in Adiga's previous novel.

Last Man is set in the Vakola district of Mumbai where real estate developer Dharmen Shah is determined to construct a gleaming new modern building to be called "The Shanghai." To put up the building, however, Shah needs first to clear out Tower Blocks A and B, two developments that were built during the 1970s. Seeking to get current residents of the two towers to leave peacefully, he makes every single one of them a generous financial offer to vacate their homes and find new ones. Most of the residents accept Shah's offer but Masterji, a resident of Tower B refuses. The second (and better half) of the novel primarily revolves around Masterji and his resistance to Shah.

The novel is interesting in many regards. Like The White Tiger, Last Man in Tower is filled with insights into the workings of contemporary Indian society and culture. While The White Tiger focused on both village and urban life, Last Man in Tower has a much more urban focus. It captures in great detail the ways that Indians interact in the modern urban milieus that are becoming increasingly dominant in the country. As in The White Tiger, Adiga shows a great degree of moral ambiguity. We don't really cheer for Masterji or Shah, rather we come to see them both as emblematic of different facets of changing Indian society.

Ultimately, however, I came away disappointed, not because this is a bad novel but because it did not make me laugh uproariously even while despairing about the human condition in the same way The White Tiger did. None of the characters are quite as finely tuned as Balram Hallwai. It is still worth reading if you have a strong interest in India or are just curious to read Adiga's latest. But I hope that Adiga will recapture the magic of The White Tiger in a future book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 12, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There aren't many novels that fail to grip me and yet leave me satisfied in the end, but consider this a major first. While reading `Last Man in Tower' I found myself wanting to put it away and forget about it. It seemed so overthought and repetitive and confusing in its cluttered construction. Too many people with too many narratives jumping around kept me juggling characters and trying to make sense of a scenario that should have been easy to hold onto. I was 100 pages in and I wanted to move on, badly.

I did.

I put the book away and read through SEVEN OTHER NOVELS before picking it back up again and starting over. The second time through the first 100 was easier. I already had a basic understanding and reading it again helped me put the pieces together better. I understood the characters and their situation and their stance and then the real guts of the novel hit and I found myself consumed with finding the answers to what was to come next.

Not without struggle, but consumed nonetheless.

The story revolves around a teacher called Masterji who lives in a Co-operative Housing Society. When a self-made real estate mogul makes an offer to buy out the inhabitants, his building jumps at the chance to get out from under it. Everyone is for it, except Masterji, who refuses to be forced into anything. Without his signature, the deal isn't good and everyone else will lose out on what they feel they deserve. Soon, despite initial admiration for his morals, the building turns on him and starts conspiring ways to get him to sign; or die.

`Last Man in Tower' presents us with a conundrum of sorts. While one can see the thinking behind Masterji's actions, one also can see the selfishness in his decision. But, on the other hand, while one can understand the desperation of Masterji's neighbors one can also see the serious flaws in the inhuman ways they chose to deal with the situation. It is hard to take any sides here because both sides are nearly evenly flawed and undesirable. What we are left with is an intriguing character study with no easy answers but instead some perplexing and provoking questions about morality and justice.

Standing in the way of perfection is the jumbled way in which Adiga pens this book. Like I mentioned, the first 100 pages or so are a bear to get through and can become very confusing and scattered. He introduces a barrage of characters and shifts focus a lot in order to color them all in, but he doesn't really do it well. Even by the books end I feel as though I knew too many names but not enough personalities. He does add needed detail to the more important characters in the book, but by introducing us to so many he creates a faux air of importance that leaves us wondering why some people were mentioned at all. I find it alarming when a novel opens with an `index of characters'. I'm sorry, but I don't want to have to continually check an index in order to keep straight `who is who' and why they are there. This is really my only complaint, but at the end of the day it is a pretty big one because it is prominent throughout the entire novel.

So, while the end result was an undeniably powerful one, I struggled to get there and that isn't a good sign. Like I said, it is that really rare occasion of a book that ended on such a high note I'm willing to recommend it, but one that opened with such a rocky foundation (and sustained that rockiness) that I have to `recommend with reservations'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
When does the heartfelt convictions of one solitary man negate the jointly held consensus of the rest of any civic society?

That is the question posed at the center of Aravind Adiga's audacious new novel, an impressive and propulsive examination of the struggle for a slice of prime Mumbai real estate. It is a worthy follow-up to Adiga's Booker Prize novel, White Tiger, as he goes back to the well to explore the changing face of a rapidly growing India.

Adiga pits two flawed men against each other: The first is Dharmen Shah, a burly and self-made real estate mogul who is the "master of things seen and things unseen." Through his left-hand man, the shady Shananmugham, he offers each resident of the Vishram Co-operative Housing Society the highest price ever paid for a redevelopment project in the suburb of Vakola.

Just about every resident jumps at the chance to sell - the anxious Ibrahim Kudwa, an Internet-store owner and the only observant Muslim in the neighborly society; social worker Georgina Rego who loathes amoral redevelopers but wants to trump her wealthy sister; Sengeeta Puri, who cares for her son afflicted with Down's Syndrome;Ramesh Ajwani, an ambitious real-estate broker and more.

Only one resident holds out: Masterji, a retired school teacher who lives alone after the recent death of his wife and the death of his daughter. Only here, at Vishram, can he cling to his memories and so he refuses to sell, even when the pot is sweetened...even when he is threatened emotionally and physically. Masterji is the one immutable roadblock between Shah and his legacy.

Whether the reader sympathizes with Masterji - who stands in the way of his neighbors' most audacious dreams, and whose integrity and incorruptibility borders on narcissism - may be equivalent to, say, how each of us felt with the Ralph Nader spoiler in the Bush-Gore election. Was he an honorable man to have taken a stand? Or was he simply an egotist? There is a grudging admiration for Masterji's stand, mixed with an impatience and frustration at how this high-principled man stubbornly torpedoes the will of the majority.

Shah is ruthless but also fair-minded: his price is more than fair. Masterji is principled but tin-eared to his neighbors' pleas as the deadline to accept the offer looms. And as the developer - and his one-time friends - become more and more desperate, the novel cranks up to almost unbearable suspense, with a hint of a Lord of the Flies scenario.

The background to this tension-filled plot is Mumbia itself, where countless workers commute on nightmarishly overstuffed trains, where they all emerge: "fish, birds, the leopards of Borivali, even the starlets and super-models of Bandra, out of the prismatic dreams of Mother Garbage." Here, fetid slums, the most luxurious high-rises of the future, and the temples of old co-exist within a fragile and all-too-often corrupt democracy.

A Dickensian quality pervades this ambitious novel, which fearlessly tackles electrifying themes: what price growth? Will good people risk their humanity when faced with a chance to score a big payday? When does the will of a man who foregoes monetary gain resemble selfishness as opposed to virtue? And who can we trust to stand by us when we take a lone stance? This book of contrasts - between a man of finance and a man of virtue (although, of course, it is not as simple as that)...between wealth and squalor... between the old and the new is a tour de force. And it is certain to add to Aravind Adiga's already sterling reputation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 27, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A Mumbai builder makes an offer to residents of a local tenement to buy their apartments at a princely sum so he can tear down the building and put up a skyscraper. The tenants rejoice at the prospect of the better lives the money will afford them; one woman with a mentally-challenged son, for instance, will be able to hire a nurse to provide better care, while another will be able to send her child to a good U.S. college. One of the tenants, though, refuses the offer. It's not clear why, even to him - he has no particular attachment to his apartment and has let it lapse into disrepair - but he doesn't want to sell, and he reasons that in a free society, that should be that. This is a problem for everyone else, however: due to the nature of the lease agreements, every tenant has to agree to sell in order for the deal to go through, and the refusal of the titular Last Man in Tower has endangered everyone else's bright tomorrow.

As the cover blurb crows, author Aravind Ariga casts his novel as the tale of a "man who can't be bought": the lone man of principle standing against a compromised mob. The book is very well-written and offers insightful character studies, but there's a problem: the supposed villains are right, at least initially. Ariga laments that the tenants have been incited by the prospect of riches to tear apart the makeshift family that's supposedly formed at the apartment complex, but we see little love at the tenement before the offer is made: the residents' interactions are largely limited to snapping at each other over petty disputes and rifling through the garbage for evidence of misdeeds. It'd be better for everyone if they all moved. Even when things turn darker later, Ariga makes the mistake of conflating motive with method in his condemnations, making the unconvincing claim that as ambition can lead you to compromise your principles, it's better not to aspire to anything at all. Building busybody Mrs. Puri is a jerk and worse, yes, but because she ultimately advocates the use of violence to win her case, not because she wants to ensure that her developmentally-disabled son is cared for after her death.

Ariga falters as a moral arbiter here, but he's solid as a prose stylist and character artist. The builder himself is best of the cast, reminiscent of Tony Soprano in his struggle with the repercussions of his work and his family issues: he's conflicted and has the potential to be a better man but is kidding himself that he's not giving in to the worst of his nature. The strategy the builder ultimately takes to resolve his holdout situation is also brilliant. There'd be some interesting material tackled here if the premise were solid: the extent to which altruism can actually exist independent of more selfish motives; how much responsibility you have to act ethically toward those who do not act ethically toward you; the web of social interactions in the building and how they interact with personal aspirations to wear down the tenants with initial reservations about the deal. The problem remains, however, that the underlying moral dilemma is not as black and white as the author wishes to paint it, and that undermines the entire novel. As the builder might tell us: the upper stories may be pretty, but if you have a shaky foundation, it doesn't really matter what you put on top.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This past April, "Radio Diaries" aired an astonishing story. The subject of the National Public Radio documentary was James Weekley, a man who grew up in the small mountain town of Pigeonroost Hollow, West Virginia, and had lived there for 70 years. Just like his father and his grandfather before him, James was a coal miner and worked hard to earn a good living for his family.

Back in the mid-1990s, a company called Arch Coal stormed into Pigeonroost and the surrounding area and commenced work on one of the largest mountaintop removal mining sites in history. Dust and noise pollution filled the air, and the once isolated hamlet became a beacon of industrial progress literally overnight. One by one, over the course of a decade, Weekley's neighbors and friends moved away, seduced by the large sums of money the coal company threw at them for rights to their land. Not Jimmy. Even after his wife died, he refused to give in and sell. He was, in effect, the last man standing.
"It's hard," he said," to get out of a place where you've lived all your life. The old saying is, 'You always want to come back where your roots are.' And I'm just not ready."

Eventually, the coal company was forced to halt work on the site until a settlement with Weekley could be made. So far, though, this hasn't happened. At least for now, Weekley seems to have beaten the industrial giant. But his win didn't come without a severe cost. He lost his friends and the respect of his neighbors. Plus, the thought that maybe he wasn't doing the "right thing" continues to nag him to this day.

Much like the controversy surrounding Pigeonroost Hollow, Aravind Adiga's LAST MAN IN TOWER chronicles what transpires when a lone individual is pitted against something much larger than himself: the immutable promise of progress. We watch his shockingly rapid descent from a once-revered teacher and beloved figure in the community to a stubborn holdout and much-despised blockade against the dreams and desires of his neighbors.

The crux of the conflict revolves around a Mumbai apartment co-op, the Vishram Society. Built in the late 1950s on the birthday of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Vishram is a bastion of hope and development for modern India. Its mixture of Catholic, Muslim and Hindu residents are respectfully middle-class, though they do a good job in trying to block out the slums creeping onto their doorstep, the noise of the roaring 747s flying overhead from the adjacent airport, and the fact that water is only intermittently available in their unconvincingly well-equipped homes. At first glance, the Vishram's tenants are a close-knit group with general concern for each other's well-being and a collective governing body regulating important building-wide decisions. But soon enough, they turn into a teeming mob that turns out one of their own with enough venom reserved for only the deepest, vilest enemy.

Who is the "Arch Coal" in Adiga's world? Mr. Shah, a slippery real estate baron of the aptly named Confidence Group, and Shanmugham, his equally smarmy left-hand man. The two hope to make more of a name for themselves in Mumbai by tearing down the Vishram and replacing it with two spiffed-up luxury towers. In exchange for vacating their homes, the Vishram's occupants would be given what amounts to $300,000 --- enough to buy an apartment, a car and then some.

Presented with such promise of wealth and prestige, most of the Vishram's residents take the deal immediately. Three hesitant parties take a bit (i.e. a "sweetener") to be convinced, but eventually crumble. Who is left? The venerable Yogesh "Masterji" Murthy, a man of fortitude so strong, not even he is aware of his strength and stamina. As the deadline to accept Shah's offer edges closer, Masterji faces inordinate pressure from his neighbors. What begins as organized attempts at subtle persuasion blossoms into full-blown physical violence (on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, no less), until the widower loses not only his credibility, but also his sanity.

Although there are nuances to the story Adiga tells, the impasse at the center of his book is a simple one. When a man stands in the way of other people's dreams, there's no telling what might happen. But Adiga does an excellent job in allowing his characters' actions to play out realistically; they are so embarrassingly human. No one character is singularly virtuous. No one character is uniformly evil. Even Masterji is portrayed as coocoo at times. What principle is so important if what he wants out of the deal is truly "nothing" in the end? Why must he be alienating himself so?

As in his 2008 Man Booker Prize-winning THE WHITE TIGER and follow-up BETWEEN THE ASSASSINATIONS, Adiga's rich, fragrant language is what carries much of the book. One example is his description of a crowded market as "a row of blue wooden stalls, lit by white tube-lights or naked yellow bulbs, in which the most disparate trades were conducted side by side: a chicken shop smelling of poultry shi- and raw meat, a sugarcane-vendor's stall haloed in raw sucrose, a Xerox machine in a stationery shop yawning flashes of blinding light, and a barber's salon, busy even at this hour, stinking of shaving cream and gossip." The cleaning woman's "big teeth erupting out of her concave cheeks" is another. In this next quote, we see India through Adiga's eyes, which enables us to understand not only the novel itself, but also the reasons why his characters behave the way they do: "Look: how this city never stops growing: rubble, shi-, plans, mulch, left to themselves, start slurping up sea, edging towards the other end of the bay like a snake's tongue, hissing through salt water, there is more land here, more land... All of Bombay was created like this: through the desire of junk and landfill, on which the reclaimed city sits, to become something better."

Like James Weekley, Masterji was only doing what he felt was right --- standing up for his convictions in the face of adversity. But was the price he paid in the end worth the fight? I guess that's up to whom you ask. Adiga certainly doesn't give you a definitive answer either way, which makes LAST MAN IN TOWER worth reading.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling
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