Aravind Adiga's Last Man in Tower offers a model of the globalized economy
Last Man in Tower
By Aravind Adiga. Bond Street Books, 382 pp, hardcover
To the residents of Vishram Society, a Mumbai apartment complex, Dharmen Shah’s offer is the windfall of a lifetime. All that stands between Tower A’s occupants and the real-estate developer’s generous buyout is the signature of Yogesh A. Murthy, the retired schoolteacher known as Masterji. The deal is contingent on each householder’s compliance but Masterji refuses out of principle; his integrity is not for sale.
Morality, however, is frequently sideswiped by the hazardous truth that things get ugly when people don’t get their way.
Last Man in Tower, the new novel by Aravind Adiga, chronicles what happens to the denizens of this ramshackle building as they turn against Masterji, their chance at upward mobility potentially jeopardized. Addressing themes similar to those in his Booker Prize–winner The White Tiger, this latest work continues to explore the public and personal fallout of India’s ongoing modernization.
Here, Adiga contemplates community and gentrification, their symbiotic and sinister effects, and details the conflicts between opportunity, self-interest, and honour. “You know a community by the luxuries it can live without,” he writes. “Those in Vishram dispense with the most basic: self-deception.”
Revealing the vipers coiled behind Masterji’s back, the author, who lives in Mumbai, wraps multiple plot lines around Tower A’s inhabitants and the dubious tycoon, composing a small-scale model of global industrialization.
Brandishing a knack for bribery and intimidation, Dharmen Shah wants the site for his grandest project, and numerous tenants are eager to help him secure the location, for a price. Masterji considered these people friends and neighbours, but as the deadline nears they expose themselves as nemeses, all with their own aspirations.
Vishram Society was the backdrop to Masterji’s days as a husband and father—his concept of home—and these memories only fortify the widower’s resolve to stay despite the escalating venom.
While depicting individuals who’ve succeeded in India’s emerging economy, Adiga’s fiction memorializes those whom they’ve stepped over, or on, along the way. Disturbing and sardonic, Last Man in Tower is a story about both the necessary and avoidable consequences of progress, the friction between past and possibility, and the feral ways in which people chase their dreams.