You may know Aravind Adiga from his Booker-winning The White Tiger. I enjoyed that book quite a bit, which propelled me to pick up Last Man in Tower. I’m glad I did. It was the March selection for many of my Literary Masters book groups, and it was a great choice.
Warp-speed plot summary:
The setting is Bombay, or Mumbai, depending on your politics, I suppose, and there is a developer who wants to knock down an old, dilapidated apartment building and replace it with something fantastically new, shiny, and ever so 21st century. He’s willing to pay the residents more than market value for their homes so they can become rich off the deal.
Sounds simple, right? Well, there is one man who refuses to sell, and who therefore threatens to ruin the deal for everyone. I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that this is a very readable, very literary, very subtle gem of a novel.
So, what can your book club talk about while discussing Last Man in Tower?
You’ll want to discuss Masterji and his motivation. Why does he resist the developer? What does he want? Is he heroic? Is he narcissistic? Is he to blame? What would you do in his place?
Is there a hero in this story? Adiga has stated that the real hero of the novel is Mumbai. What do you make of this? Of all the characters, does anyone act in a heroic manner?
Is there a villain in this story?
What do you think of the Shah? What do you think of his methods of doing business?
You’ll really want to discuss all the characters in depth. Each one has a point at which he or she “turns” –a masterly feat of writing on Adiga’s part. What happens to each one and why? How do they justify/ rationalize their behavior? How is the realtor different from all the others? This novel is in many ways a true study in psychology.
This novel raises many “big questions,” and you’ll want to discuss some of those. For instance, can a person even be an individual when living within a society? How much responsibility does one have towards others when living within a society? Do individual rights trump those of the collective? Should they?
Does everyone have a price? Is it possible for a man to want nothing?
You’ll want to discuss the saying “Man is like a goat tied to a pole,” and the concept of free will in the novel.
You can delve into what the novel seems to be saying about the “old India” versus the “new India.” Do you think the novel favors one side over the other? Is there a value system that is privileged in the story? Is there a message we are meant to take away?
Ask yourselves: could anyone who isn’t Indian have written this novel? What is the novel saying about corruption?
Make sure to save lots of time to discuss the beautiful imagery and symbolism in the story. Talk about the birds, the stray dog, the black cross, and the caged animals, just for a start!
This ought to get you started. Enjoy the book. If you’re anything like me, it will stay with you a long time after you finish it.