The point of this review is more to dispense my troubled feelings about this book than to persuade or dissuade anyone from reading it. I felt something akin to word vomit as I wrote this review, so please don’t get upset if you find the occasional spoiler within this review. Most of my remarks come from personal feelings about the book and my reactions to my class discussion of this novel.
I gave Last Man In Towerby Aravind Adiga four stars not because I was head over heels in love with it, but because it led me to have profound thoughts about the condition of humanity. While this book was required reading for me for Graduate School, there were many times when I wanted to throw it clear across the room out of frustration and anger at the characters’ actions.
The story’s theme focuses on the duty that one has to his/her community. In this novel, Masterji, a retired Physics teacher living in a co-op in Vakola, Mumbai, along with his neighbors are offered the chance to sell their shares in their old apartment building for close to $2,900,000. However, the catch is that the group must do so unanimously. For many in the co-op, the idea of having money and being able to move up in the world is enticing enough to sign without much of a hassle, but for Masterji, the idea of leaving a place where his deceased wife and daughter’s last memory rest is unthinkable. Therefore, Masterji refuses to sign and rages a one-man opposition to the builder’s proposal.
Here is where my distaste for Adiga’s novel sets in. For the whole of the book, Masterji’s neighbor’s complained of this man’s disregard for his community’s wishes, yet, everyone ultimately betrayed him for greed. It was argued in my seminar that Masterji was in the wrong for his actions of refusing to agree to abandon his home and go along with the co-op’s wishes because he had a duty to his community. However, in my opinion, this line of thinking seems twisted.
For the first half of the novel, the individuals of the Vishram Society regarded themselves as “respectable” people and prided themselves on living as upstanding middle-class Indians that were committed to doing what was right for their community. This all changed as soon as the opportunity to get money was presented to them. After this, they all became greedy and insufferable characters who only thought of their own needs forgetting the community. If the individuals in the society had had better reasons for their actions, I would have felt less trepidation at the characters’ final actions, but each person betrayed Masterji for mere dollar signs in the end. Moreover, they hid behind the idea that Masterji was blocking their one chance at “happiness” to keep from dealing with their betrayal. To me, this greed in Adiga’s characters hardened my belief that money really is the cause of all evil.
This being said, Adiga’s story is well-crafted and worth a read regardless of its raw portrayal of humanity. My only gripe besides anger at the characters’ pettiness and greed is that in some places, the author overwhelmed the reader with too many details and back history/story. This verboseness had me struggling to keep myself invested in the overall action of the novel (I actually found the last 1/4 of the book to be the best part of the story). Overall, I would recommend this book, especially as a book club pick, so that you can have someone else to discuss the themes and topics in this novel.