Between the Assasinations by Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga reportedly said about his Booker-winning The White Tiger that “the main reason anyone would want to read this book, or so I hope, is because it entertains them and keeps them hooked to the end. I don’t read anything because I ‘have’ to: I read what I enjoy reading, and I hope my readers will find this book fun, too.”

Well, Adiga’s new book is perhaps the least “fun” read of our century thus far. Did I enjoy this book? No. Did it keep me hooked to the end? Yes, by God!

The book’s title refers to the period between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi (1984) and Rajiv Gandhi (1990). Between The Assassinations  unsparingly indicts an India where healthcare, clean water, sanitation and electricity are luxuries reserved for the rich. Very different from the crowd-pleasing The White Tiger in both tone and form, this book takes the shape of interlinked short stories–each more hellishly raw than its predecessor. The author trains his all-seeing eye on Kittur, an average small town in South India, and the results aren’t pretty. Poverty isn’t a genteel if grim pressure, but a degrading and ultimately dehumanizing state of being. A homeless rickshaw puller finds himself performing his ablutions next to a stray pig. “At once, he thought, God, what am I becoming? … He told himself… There is a difference between man and animal; there is a difference.”

The author’s tragic vision ensures that conventional escape routes aren’t available to the protagonists — caste and class barriers put paid to those taunting hopes. Neither love or religion, nor violence or drugs provide any real respite to the poor of Kittur. And wealth isn’t always the answer: Abbasi, a rich businessman whose workers are going blind embroidering “export quality” shirts, is tortured by remorse but sees no way out. That Abbasi is one of the most likable characters in Between The Assassinations pretty much sums this book up. Some readers may find this work overwrought and irredeemably pessimistic; I felt Adiga’s hold upon the desperate side of humanity was all too real.

This review appears in The Asian Review of Books.

7 responses to “Between the Assasinations by Aravind Adiga

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  2. Most interesting. What drew my attention is your reference from the book: A homeless rickshaw puller finds himself performing his ablutions next to a stray pig. “At once, he thought, God, what am I becoming? … He told himself… There is a difference between man and animal; there is a difference.”

    It looks unlikely that Adiga has lived any length of time in villages of ‘this kind’ in South India.

  3. Finally, someone who likes Between the Assassinations! I’ve forced the book on at least four people who claimed “The White Tiger” was the best book ever written, and none of them even finished the book.
    But I found it the much better book of the two – White Tiger is too fantastic to be true (something like both Q&A and Six Suspects), but though this book paints a depressing picture, it is a real picture.

  4. @ Anil: Well, Adiga started off as a journalist, and while I don’t have any insider information, I am inclined to believe that much of his writing flows from his observations. also, he doesn’t generalize–the rickshaw puller’s experience is his alone.
    Have you read the book?

    @ Natasha: I hear you! I liked both the books, but for different reasons. As I guess you did too!

  5. Nope, I haven’t. It was just that I was struck by that one line, more so because occasionally a single line can afford a telling insight about authenticity, hence my observation.

    It’s just that I know firsthand, and very, very closely at that, the scenario he paints about the stray pig and the issue of ablutions the rickshaw-puller is faced with.

    Just curious about where, as in geography, has he set this scene. I think I’ll need to look up that portion in the book.

  6. Driven by the buzz about Adiga, I picked up Between the Assassinations at the public library. I thought the initial stories were well written, but somewhere past the half-way mark the stories continues to be unlinked, and continued to be depressing. This may be the “real India”, but more likely is just another city dweller’s completely contrived view of the pessimistic 80s era rural India.

    I didn’t finish the book. I just couldn’t get myself to continue reading any further.

    Tell me how it ended. On second thoughts…forget it!

  7. @ Anil: The book has a map of Kittur, and is structured like a travel guide, so it’s right up your alley :)Hope to see a review on your blog.

    @ Gaurav: Well, I don’t know about the “completley contrived” view. I’ve often felt that in India, there’s a parallel universe of rural poverty that seems unreal to the middle-class city dweller, and vice versa–the two worlds touch so seldom. That said, I too found the book depressing, but I did want to see where Adiga went with it. As for the end–there’s no real ending for such books, is there?
    I checked out your new MBA blog btw…nice work! Will comment there soon.

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