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Selection Day: A Novel Hardcover – January 3, 2017
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“Selection Day, Mr. Adiga’s third novel, supplies further proof that his Booker Prize, won for The White Tiger in 2008, was no fluke. He is not merely a confident storyteller but also a thinker, a skeptic, a wily entertainer, a thorn in the side of orthodoxy and cant... Powerful... Soulful... What this novel offers is the sound of a serious and nervy writer working at near the top of his form. Like a star cricket batter, Mr. Adiga stands and delivers, as if for days." (Dwight Garner, New York Times)
“Adiga’s wit and raw sympathy will carry uninitiated readers beyond their ignorance of cricket…Adiga’s paragraphs bounce along like a ball hit hard down a dirt street. One gets the general direction, but the vectors of his story can change at any moment as we chase after these characters…Selection Day evolves into a bittersweet reflection on the limits of what we can select. Choice — that most enticing Western ideal — does not thrive everywhere equally…Adiga’s voice is so exuberant, his plotting so jaunty, that the sadness of this story feels as though it is accumulating just outside our peripheral vision.” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post)
“Adiga seems boundlessly gifted once again. He makes beautiful sentences; creates wonderfully eccentric, original characters; and moves his plot along at a brisk pace. There’s energy and wit on every page… Adiga superbly captures the intimacy between the two brothers, as they bicker, tease and protect each other… as Adiga explores themes of ambition, failure, homophobia and threats to freedom — whether on a personal or national level — he has produced a nearly flawless novel, and further proof that he is among our finest contemporary novelists.” (Carmela Ciuraru, The San Francisco Chronicle)
"The best novel I read this year... In its primal triangle of rival brothers and a maniacal father, hell-bent on success in cricket in India, Adiga grips the passions while painting an extraordinary panorama of contemporary sports, greed, celebrity, and mundanity. As a literary master, Adiga has only advanced in his art since his Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger." (Mark Greif, The Atlantic)
"A compelling tale of cricket and corruption... A finely told, often moving, and intelligent novel... Adiga has grown in his art since his Booker prizewinning debut, The White Tiger." (The Guardian)
“Adiga is an exceptionally talented novelist, and the subtlety with which he presents the battle between India’s aspirants and its left-behind poor is exceptional.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
"Selection Day is, by any judgment, top-rate fiction from a young master... Adiga’s plot is gripping." (The Times (UK))
"An engrossing and nuanced coming-of-age novel... Adiga has succeeded in composing a powerful individual story that, at the same time, does justice to life's (and India's) great indeterminacies."--The Sunday Times (UK) (Sunday Times (UK))
"Sensually told and unpredictably plotted... Adiga's prose has a bustling energy that makes it highly readable." (The Financial Times (UK))
"A captivating and sensitive coming-of-age story that tackles various new themes: the confounding nature of sexuality; the darkness that accompanies excellence and achievement... Adiga’s characters, like his settings, are getting more complex with each book, and this complexity makes his indictment of the contemporary world all the more urgent and convincing." (Times Literary Supplement (UK))
"A master class in integrating character and landscape... Peppered with dashes of humor, this dark and unflinching story is an unqualified triumph." (Booklist, starred review)
"Brilliant, raw energy ricocheting off of every line." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
"Captivating.” (Harper’s Bazaar)
"A great read, even if you're not a fan of cricket.” (Bustle)
“Adiga writes a prose of crazed energy, bright color and acrobatic logic... comical and searing… Selection Day brings a family, a city and an entire country to scabrous and antic life.” (Michael Upchurch, The Chicago Tribune)
“Ambitious… filled with smart, spot-on observations about the perils of growing up.” (Mike Fisher, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
“Spirited…the elements of Selection Day are strong throughout: a dramatic, readable arc; satire glinting with hints of tragedy; a witty, vibrant voice.” (Hamilton Cain, The Minneapolis Star Tribune)
"Wonderfully original." (Ru Freeman, The Boston Globe)
“Exuberant and incisive…Each sentence flickers like a match with life. Adiga swoops in and out of his characters' inner voices with frightening precision and speed, laying out the paranoia, obsessions, tokens, idols, and self-made prisons of each man in a few bright, laserlike sentences…Richness and rot, decadence and decay, cricket and corruption: These make up Adiga's Mumbai. Selection Day asks: Amidst all this, is there any such thing as freedom?” (Annalisa Quinn, NPR)
“Many novelists are called Dickensian, but Adiga comes closer than most, albeit with every last speck of Victorian sentimentality suctioned out. His characters are brightly and sharply drawn and animated with great energy; reading about his Mumbai is like taking a double shot of espresso…You need not know anything about cricket in any of its variations to savor Selection Day. In fact, you don’t need to have any interest in sports at all. Cricket serves Adiga as a marvelously flexible metaphor: for the (lost) dream of civic integrity, for tradition and authority, for the contest that is life in a rapidly evolving economy…Class is Adiga’s great theme, and his depiction of its workings in India ranges from the fondly comical to the savage…[a] ferociously brilliant novel.” (Laura Miller, Slate)
“Mr. Adiga writes with customary acerbity and astuteness. Class resentment is the gasoline that fuels the brothers’ ambitions and gives this novel its noisy volatility. The gritty urban realism that animated The White Tiger and Last Man in Tower is again on display…Selection Day churns with the same propulsive energy.” (Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal)
“This is a novel with a broad sweep, accomplished with commendable economy and humor, in a sinewy, compact prose that has the grace and power of a gifted athlete. And it pulses with affection for Mumbai itself; the effortless sociological dissection recalls Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers... Selection Day transcends sport. This is a book about choice and destiny, smothering family ambition and the pull of a young person’s nascent identity. You’re just going to have to trust me that the cricket is worth it.” (Marcel Theroux, The New York Times Book Review)
About the Author
Aravind Adiga was born in India in 1974 and attended Columbia and Oxford universities. He is the author of Selection Day, the Booker Prize-winning novel The White Tiger, and the story collection Between the Assassinations. He lives in Mumbai, India.
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Radha Krishna Kumar is the finest young batsmen in Mumbai, and his brother Manjunath is nearly as good. That, at least, is the opinion held by Parmod Sawant, the head cricket coach at an international school, although Pramod must defer to Tommy Sir, the best talent scout in India. Plans are afoot, not all of them legitimate, to invest in the two brothers, as Anand Mehta proposes to act as agent for (and owner of) the two cricketeers while pocketing the profit from their success.
The boys attained their lofty status thanks to their father, Mohan Kumar, a seller of chutney who has devoted his life to teaching the boys useless proverbs, correct posture, and the fundamentals of cricket. The boys, of course, resent their controlling father, in part because he caused their mother to flee. Cricket seems to be their only hope of a better life.
A rivalry between young Manju Kumar and his older brother develops as the novel progresses. But when Manju befriends another young cricket player, Javed Ansari, his thoughts turn to poetry and music and college and everything that is not cricket. Is he being led astray, or is being encouraged to find his true destiny? In the coming-of-age tradition, Manju finds himself pulled in several directions at once as he tries to decide how to live his life.
Many of the characters in Selection Day play familiar comedic roles — particularly the father, Tommy Sir, and Anand Mehta — and much the novel is quite funny. Comedy aside, the relationship between Javed (a Muslim) and Manju (a Hindu) explores serious questions involving religion, sexuality, and social status in India.
Adiga uses cricket to open a window into India’s problems, which he sees as corruption, prejudice, resistance to modernization, and a tendency toward self-delusion, among other issues (including literary offenses committed by Indian authors who meet the shallow demands of the reading public). At the same time, the book has universal appeal, revealing character traits (vulnerability, manipulation, self-aggrandizement, empathy) that are recognizable in all cultures.
Whether Manju makes the right choices in his life is, of course, something that only Manju can judge, but the end of the book gives the reader a peek at Manju’s young adulthood. That invites the reader to ponder how Manju’s life might have turned out if he gone in a different direction. The ending isn’t what I might have predicted and it is all the more satisfying for that reason.
I should add that this is not the first novel I’ve read in which cricket plays a dominant role, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea how the game is actually played. Fortunately, a reader doesn’t need to understand cricket to understand Selection Day. And for those who care, Adiga appended an amusing glossary of cricket terms.
That experience with The White Tiger led me to pick up Adiga’s second novel, Between the Assassinations. Structured as a collection of fourteen interconnected stories set in a small town on India’s west coast, Between the Assassinations was very different from his debut effort. Like so many second novels that arrive after a hugely successful debut, it didn’t measure up to The White Tiger. Still, I enjoyed the book. I found it a fascinating look from the inside out of India’s caste and class system.
By contrast, Selection Day, Adiga’s fourth novel, is a disappointment—for three reasons.
First, it’s all about cricket. The book teems with cricket terms that are nowhere explained. (There’s a glossary in the back of the book, but it’s sketchy and obviously an afterthought, probably included at the insistence of the publisher.) It’s boring to read sentence after sentence that makes no sense.
In any case, the contrary views of my British friends and the author notwithstanding, the game of cricket itself is boring. Over the centuries, the game has acquired such a massive collection of rules that no one can possibly understand them all. For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would put up with that. Admittedly, in fairness, I also find baseball and American football to be boring. But at least the rules are reasonably transparent. (Well, more or less reasonably so.)
Second, though I’m a fan of English-language novels written by Indians, Indian-Americans, or in this case an Indo-Australian, I can usually navigate through the occasional word in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, or one of the other of India’s hundreds of languages. Adiga uses far too many in Selection Day. I frequently found myself baffled, since many terms weren’t clear in context.
Third, I got the impression that Adiga has come to take himself too seriously. Maybe that Booker Prize went to his head. Apparently, he wrote the book to prove he could write “literature.” At times in Selection Day—too many times, for my taste—his meaning was impenetrable even when written in plain English. Take this sentence for example: “A son’s true opinion of his parents is written on the back of his teeth.” Excuse me? (Yes, I grabbed that sentence out of context. But it still stopped me in my tracks.)
Selection Day spans a fourteen-year period. It begins three years before the day when seventeen-year-old Mumbai cricket players audition for a place on a prestigious citywide team and ends eleven years after the day. The story centers around two brothers, Radha and Manju Kumar. They live with their father in a hovel in one of Mumbai’s endless slums. Both are extremely promising cricket players forced since infancy by their brutal father to conform to his rigorous, unorthodox, and undoubtedly insane methods to train for stardom in the game. Other key characters are a third boy, a Muslim, unlike the Kumar brothers; an aging cricket scout who writes an embarrassingly self-congratulatory column for a leading Mumbai newspaper; and a wealthy Mumbai businessman recruited by the scout to sponsor the two boys in exchange for a third of all their future earnings from cricket.
Enough said. If you follow cricket, you might enjoy this novel. I have my doubts, though.