Title: Last Man in Tower
Author: Aravind Adiga
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The residents of Vishram Society’s Tower A in Mumbai are flabbergasted when a developer named Dharmen Shah offers them an extremely generous amount of money in order to buy them out of their building. Shah has a vision of a building called the Shanghai and is determined to build it on the site at all costs. But Shah doesn’t expect one of the residents, Masterji, to resist all his attempts to remove the residents of Tower A from the building.
Last Man in Tower is the story of a showdown, a struggle between two men: Shah and Masterji, set against the backdrop of Mumbai, a city of opposites. The city of Mumbai is its own character in this novel; Shah wants to build an amazing ode to luxury with the Shanghai, displacing the slums and crumbling buildings in the Vakola district of Mumbai. This juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, of have and have-nots is at the center of this book, and it’s done extremely well.
Masterji is an incredibly interesting character. At the beginning, readers might feel that his stand against Shah is admirable, especially considering the situation he is forced into by his fellow residents. But as the novel progresses, Masterji’s stubbornness starts to grate. Is he to be lauded for sticking to his principles, or is the issue more complex? After all, because of his stand, he is denying Shah’s generous buyout to everyone in his building. In a less complicated and intricate novel, Masterji would clearly be “good” and Shah “bad”, but Adiga’s genius is in the details. Neither of these men are so clearly labeled; instead, they are representative of the debate between tradition and progress, and it’s very nuanced.
Adiga is a talented writer and knows very well how to turn a phrase. His writing is beautiful, but never heavy. It makes this book a pleasure to read; his descriptions are vivid and really bring the claustrophobic nature of Mumbai to life. He also does an excellent job developing the characters in the novel and making them memorable. Readers will think about the people in Last Man in Tower for a very long time after finishing the book.
The saddest part of Last Man in Tower is the behavior of the Tower A residents towards Masterji, which becomes increasingly combative as they become desperate for the promise of wealth. Adiga studies the basest parts of human nature as one by one, the Tower A denizens abandon Masterji, their lifelong friend and the person who taught their children in school and tutored them for free. As sentiment turns against Masterji, things become increasingly nasty. Though Masterji can be frustrating, it is sad to see how far things go and how bad they get.
Last Man in Tower is an interesting study of human nature and the war between principle and practicality. It’s creatively written and the vivid characters will keep the reader intrigued by this tale of morality.