I’ve read both the novels that Aravind Adiga has published till now, but I thought I’ll first review his second novel since it was what he wrote first. In a George Lucasian universe, this is the ‘right’ way to count what came first. Between The Assassinations was published after Aravind Adiga won the Booker Prize. A longish excerpt of the book was published in a issue of Hindustan Times’ Brunch Sunday supplement (this was before the book was released), and that had me hooked. I went ahead and bought the book as soon as it was available in stores.
Between The Assassinations is collection of short stories on the lives of people based in a small town called Kittur in Karnataka, where Aravind Adiga hails from. The book is titled so because the timeline of the stories is between the period of Indira Gandhi’s assassination to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. In praise of the book, each and every short story is exquisitely described – you will feel as if you yourself are present there in each situation. (This trait of Aravind Adiga’s writing comes up in his later book The White Tiger too.)
There was a reason this book wasn’t published earlier and it is this – it is goddamn boring. All the short stories are just a description of lives of people in a small town city. Nothing sets it apart as being in Kittur; you can transplant the stories to any other place and they’d still be the same. Nor do you give a damn about the characters; they aspire for nothing and go out of memory after a few pages. This situation is similar to a short story in this very book where an aspiring writer’s stories are turned down because although they are well-written, yet the characters ‘want’ nothing. None of the stories are related to each other in any way. I kept hoping maybe he’d do that a la Crash / Babel, which would make the effort spent reading worthwhile, but no. Stories have no bearing to the two Gandhi assassinations either, except that the author said so. The incidents could be set in any other period without making a difference.
Between The Assassinations feels like a scientifically accurate paper describing the lifetime of snail – written in excruciating detail but utterly pointless. In isolation some of the stories are good but the novel doesn’t work as a cohesive unit; more importantly, it is marketed as a novel and not as a collection of short stories. Only a resident of Kittur would give a damn about it. Also, everything is written from a firang perspective. Dal becomes lentil stew; everything else is similarly translated. Ironic when you consider that Picador released this book only in India (at least, that was the situation when I bought the book).
What happened, I guess is, that Aravind Adiga using this novel as a ‘shooting practice’ before moving on the to ‘Olympic Games’ (his next novel) and chose the easiest topic which came to mind. Once he won a Booker, the greedy bastards publishing companies knew they could pawn this other book off as “…from the Booker-winning writer of The White Tiger“. Released it only in India since they knew nobody other than an Indian would rush out to buy and read this.
But for Aravind Adiga, this was good practice. For what he wrote next was truly praiseworthy…