Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book reviews: Last Man in Tower and The Weekend

I've gone back to trying to actually read on the train ride into work, as opposed to scrolling through my emails on my Blackberry or staring into space.  This is, provided I can get a seat, which seems to have been the case recently.

I just finished a wonderful book, Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga.  I had read and enjoyed The White Tiger, and Last Man in Tower was really a beautiful book.  It is the story of a residential tower block run in the form of cooperative housing society, in modern Mumbai.  We get to know some of the main characters who represent a range of ages and with different histories, but essentially sharing an aspirationally middle-class existence.  When a building developer comes in with an offer to buy the tower block - so that he can tear it down and build a magnificent new residential complex - the harmony of the normal life the residents experienced is broken.  The builder is offering a huge amount of money for these people's apartments, but one man - a retired teacher known as "Masterji" - doesn't want to sell.  And because it's a co-op and every tenant needs to be in agreement to sell, therein lies the drama.  The story that unfolds is so touching, pulling on the themes of the importance of memories, the corrupting force of greed, what it means to be part of a community, and how difficult it can be to stick to one's morals in the face of a larger tide of a different collective sentiment.  I was gripped til the very last page by the way the author brought these characters to life against the backdrop of a city I've never been to, but feel I understand through a story like this.  Last Man in Tower is a great book and I hope you'll get a chance to read it.

I actually said to myself after finishing it that I was feeling on a really lucky run of reading good things - books I've really enjoyed - recently.  Well, that turned out to jinx my streak, for the next book I read was absolutely awful!  I had high hopes for The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader.  I don't recall much of The Reader, apart from remembering it as being good and of its being made into a movie.  The Weekend, in my opinion, did nothing in the way of getting the reader to care about any of the characters, not least of which the main character, a man recently released from prison after 24 years following his participation in terrorist activities.  His sister organizes a weekend away for all these old friends of his, but it all just seemed so random and boring that I felt nothing but wishing that it would just end, so I could move on to something more interesting.  When I finally got to the last page, I felt sorry for the author that he'd written something that could in no way compare to his other hit, but some of the Amazon reviews of it are favorable, so maybe it was just me.  The weekend that's arranged in the book feels odd, and that's what I thought overall of the novel.  I'd give it a miss...

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