New One by the Author of White Tiger

  I’ve known it was coming. I’ve been waiting for it. Suddenly I’ve got an advance, and in a matter of hours it’s jumped to the top of my reading pile. It’s called Between the Assassinations, and it’s a collection of linked short stories unfolding in the town of Kittur on the southwest coast of India. It’s by Aravind Adiga, the author of my favorite novel of 2008, his Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger.

If you haven’t read The White Tiger, I really don’t know what you’re waiting for. Surely by now you’ve heard someone rave. Almost everyone who encounters it is thrilled and enjoys it thoroughly on some level. Balram, the village boy whose greatest dream is to become a chauffeur in New Delhi and who admits to you that he has killed his boss, is such a great character that you can discuss him for hours. He’s as complex as a real human being.

  You get the idea that I’m a huge Adiga fan, maybe? I’ve been clutching the advance ever since I opened it this morning – it’s been beside my breakfast bowl, beside my computer screen, beside my cash register at the bookstore. I’ve read the first two stories, and I’m only pausing long enough to dash off this blog before I dive back in for one last story before bedtime.

There’s a framework around the stories, printed in italics, that assumes you’re a tourist and gives you advice on your walking tour of Kittur. The first story takes place at the train station and thereabouts, the second story in the dangerous warehouse district called the Bunder. Both have very sympathetic central characters who are morally compromised in various ways.

The first story is about little twelve-year-old Ziauddin. a black Muslim boy, accused by the Hindu shopkeeper he works for of stealing. He protests his innocence. Witnesesses accuse him. He denies it. Does he really steal? Adiga never tells us. One day the boy is hired by a mysterious, kind man to sit in the train station, watch the trains and count them, how many leave with soldiers, how many with Red Crosses on them. He tips the boy handsomely. He treats him to tea. It’s a dream job, until Zia begins to wonder why this wonderful man wants the information.

The second story is about Abbasi, a factory owner who has closed his shirt-making factory when he discovered that several of his sewing women had gone blind from the poor lighting. Now he sees corruption everywhere, and since he’s been persuaded to re-open the factory, he is besieged by government officials demanding their bribes, until Abbasi reaches a snapping point.

Neither story really has an ending. We’re told just enough to create a moral dilemma, told just enough to understand the morally-complicated character who has to make a decision. And that says it all, that’s Adiga’s specialty – moral complication. He’s a genius at it.

Okay, enough, good night – there’s just enough time for one more story.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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