Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga
|Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Set in the fictional South Indian town of Kittur, Man Booker-winning author Avarind Adiga presents a collection of twelve short stories exploring familiar themes of caste, religion, poverty, class and political corruption. His eye for detail is superb and it's written with humour and compassion - this is the real India.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: March 2010|
|Publisher: Atlantic Books|
Between the Assassinations is a collection of short stories set in the fictional South Indian town of Kittur, which is almost certainly Mangalore (where Adiga grew up). But the plight of the residents can be found in any Indian city - which I imagine is Adiga's point of setting it in a fictional location. The twelve stories are vaguely interlinked (there are some recurring characters) but for the most part the stories stand alone. The time period is set between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, although like the location, the time period and the assassinations of the title have little bearing on the events themselves.
Between the Assassinations was written before Adiga's The White Tiger and it shares many of the issues addressed in his Man Booker-winning novel, namely the plight of the poor, the disadvantaged, the caste system, religious tension, class and political corruption. Both books also share an interesting set up. While in The White Tiger, the story is told in the form of a letter to the visiting Chinese leader warning of the real India, here, Adiga structures his short stories around a fictional guide book for his invented town (although the sites mentioned, and even the names, are either similar or the same as those found in Mangalore) on a recommended seven day tour. Both books rage at the external views of India that are presented in contrast with the realities for its urban poor. At each location, we are led into a story of residents who live or work in that area - which are so different from the tone of the 'guide book' that visitors see.
It's a bit like watching one of those travel documentaries of which the BBC is so fond as we meet people in each location who show the problems that they face in their everyday lives.
It's a clever concept and overcomes the problem that you sometimes get with collections of short stories that can appear disjointed - just as you are getting into a set of characters and their stories, you find yourself having to learn about a whole new group. With this book, you don't get that. It can be read like a coherent novel and you get a familiarity with the locations in which these stories unfold. In addition, Adiga is very skilled at getting you quickly acquainted with each new setting. Of course, the short story structure also allows him to explore the plight of different, usually disadvantaged, groups in this staggeringly diverse country.
Perhaps Between the Assassinations doesn't have quite the sustained pace or consistent quality of writing of The White Tiger and in some ways, the issues and plight of the disadvantaged in India is ground that has been visited by many Indian authors in recent years. But what makes this worth exploring is the wit and eye for detail that Adiga brings to his work.
One or two of the stories, particularly in the middle of the book, did seem to drag a little - but then again, that reflects the lives of those he's writing about. These people are living repetitive lives and only just hanging on to what little they have. However, Adiga brings enough humour, irony and compassion to his characters to prevent this from being a depressing read - that is until you think about the fact that what to us is fiction, is to a great many people their everyday experience. This is India beyond the guide books.
Very many thanks to the kind people at Atlantic Books for inviting us to review this book.
If you haven't got round to it yet, then we'd highly recommend Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger which is one of the most readable Man Booker Prize winning books of recent years, while if short stories are more your thing, then why not try It's Beginning To Hurt by James Lasdun.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga at Amazon.com.
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