Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Between the Assassinations

Title: Between the Assassinations

Author: Aravind Adiga

Publisher: Free Press

# of Pages: 338

Favorite Line: She lay in the storage room, seeking comfort in the fumes of the DDT and the sight of the Baby Krishna's silver buttocks.

Rating: 10/10

I received this book for free to review.

From Booklist
Adiga provides both a chronological and geographical framework for this collection of stories, a prequel to his Man Booker–winning The White Tiger (2008). The stories take place during the years between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Each story is introduced by an excerpt from a guide for a weeklong tour of the fictional city of Kittur, located on India’s southwestern coast. The blandness of the travel guide is a counterpoint to the vibrant, messy city life, where Hindu, Muslim, and Christian, high and low caste, rich and poor, all jostle together. As in The White Tiger, corruption and injustice are important themes, and while a few characters find ways to strike back, most are caught in the daily grind of trying to survive. Although sometimes heavy handed, the stories are sharply tactile, and the city of Kittur is richly imagined. Once again, Adiga offers a panoramic view of India, this time by giving voices and names to the multitude. --Mary Ellen Quinn

I have had so much luck with short stories lately that I couldn't resist requesting this book from Amazon Vine- and success once again! This is obviously a genre I really need to delve into more deeply. Short stories are great reads for the morning and evening commutes, and during a lunch-for-one. There isn't quite as great an urge to read just one more chapter as there is with novels, so you can place your bookmark with a content feeling of completion before opening the book once more.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories. I admit to being slightly biased, though. First, it takes place not only in India, but in South India. Not only in South India, but in Karnataka, the state my parents are from. There is a character in the book named Sulocha, which is the name of one my dad's sisters. There is another one (or several different ones- I can't quite tell if they're all the same person in different stories) named Thimma- this is the nickname my mom has for my brother. The cities of Bangalore and Mysore are mentioned, as are yummy foods like tomato saaru, idli and dosa.

I really enjoy reading Indian books because it's such a vivid setting for me- while historical fiction and fantasy will always be my genres of choice, there is a huge disconnect between those characters' lives and mine. Stories set in India, especially in the south, are like a jolt of caffeine- I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like, if my parents hadn't moved to the US in the 1970s. Reading stories like these definitely gives me a sense of what might have been.

Indian authors have a tendency to be depressing. Adiga is no exception. His stories are painfully bleak and morose. His characters face life with the fatalistic belief that nothing will ever change for them. They are stuck where they are, with no way out. Some are angry, some are resigned, and some (very few) are hopeful in tone. But the main character, throughout all the stories, is India, in all her guts and glory. While I enjoyed some stories in this collection more than others, they all moved me in some way. The characters are vivid, true and wonderfully three-dimensional for the forty or so pages they are given.

And the language is so lush- Kittur, India really comes to life- the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells. Some of the sentences just struck a chord. In addition to the one above, I also noted, "The centerpiece of his body was a massive potbelly, a hard knot of flesh pregnant with a dozen cardiac arrests." And, "...the furrow in his brow was like a bookmark left there by the dead woman." So much fun to read a whole book full of sentences like these. It is hard to pick a favorite story, but one that is close to my heart is the one about a bootleg bookseller named Xerox. Read it, and you'll know why :-)

6 comments:

  1. I tend to stay away from books based in India for the same reason you like them. I don't like to see or experience the same things I see everyday. Glad you liked the collection.

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  2. Didn't know Indian authors tends to be depressing, only know that Finnish sure are, and they make depressing bleak movies too. Must be the climate up here

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  3. It must add a layer to your reading - the "might have been" aspect. The sentences are so well crafted and descriptive! Sometimes it's how the language is used that makes me love a book, not necessarily the storyline.

    That's a very convincing argument for reading short stories, it does sound as if they'd fit much better into a work day.

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  4. Short stories have really grown on me over the last few years. I've been neglecting them this year so far, actually, but I'll keep this collection in mind. It sounds wonderful.

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  5. Great review! Your enthusiasm for the book really comes through. I really, really want to read this one, although I have not yet read The White Tiger. I love Indian fiction, it is one of my favorite genres, so this one will definitely be going on the wish list after reading your review. Thanks so much!

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  6. I am so all over this book. The White Tiger was amazing, and I am sure to enjoy this one. Yay Karnataka!

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