Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Between The Assassinations

Having loved Aravind Adiga's White Tiger, it was a great deal of anticipation that I started reading Between The Assassinations. I am sad to report that my disappointment is complete. Each story is hard to read, the characters are two dimensional. Denouements simply don't happen and when they do the reader does not sense closure. The book reads like a writer's notebook of character sketches and work in progress story ideas - not a bad thing in itself as long as expectations are managed correctly. Billed as outtakes of White Tiger, this would have been very interesting but the reader is set up to expect a brand new book with a come-hither title no less.

I labored from one story to the next hoping to see some of the White Tiger magic once again but sadly that does not happen. I have recommended the White Tiger to both my Indian friends who are not big fiction readers and non-Indian ones who are (or not) but are looking to read something authentically Indian. Both kinds of folks have loved the book for its gritty charm - quite unlike some of my other recommendations (specially to non-desis) like Anita Desai, R.K Narayan or Raja Rao.

Adiga tries grit (relentlessly I might add) once again in Between The Assassinations but it does not end up having nearly the same effect. I was worn out by the all too predictable plots, the done to death cliches of social and religious tensions and the general lack of spark about the writing itself. The title seemed to suggest that Adiga will take a stab at tracing the change to the social, economic and political climate between the two assassinations (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi) through a set of short stories. That simply is not true.
Talk about truth in marketing.

I am not willing to give up on Adiga quite yet - he has too much raw talent for that. In contemporary writing about India and Indians by desis, dominated by cringe inducing faux exocitism , Adiga had come in like a whiff of fresh air with White Tiger. We need him to write more, explore India and the Indian psyche in ways that he has not done yet. I would however scale back my expectations on his next book and hope he will manage to equal or better the White Tiger.


nevermind said...

Went to one of his readings in the summer. An unassuming, humble, down to earth chap who'd spent years travelling up and down the country for Time. If only all writers were such. Whether or not they have talent, I mean.

buddy said...

i disagree, the writing in between assassinations does'nt move anywhere, straddling an in between place in small town India. some of the stories were disappointing, but some stories were masterful in themselves .

PS: also i think it reflects a darker version of Malgudi.

apologies for hogging comment space.

Heartcrossings said...

nevermind - It showed in White Tiger that Adiga had done his research well. Having lived in a BIMARU state for many years of my life, I was impressed by how authentic his characters felt.

buddy - Thanks for stopping by. Interesting perspective - "darker version of Malgudi" I had not thought of it that way. There are no Malgudis anymore in India - they have morphed into places that resemble Kittur.

cp said...

err..,came to this blog & post by accident, but anyway, my two paise:
1. "Between the Assassinations" is Adiga's first work but failed to get published, so it shouldn't be a surprise it's not as good as White Tiger.
2. You won't fully appreciate the stories unless you have lived in Mangalore in the 80s and 90s (as I have) and gone to the same school as him ( I did, a decade after him).