tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Monday, June 14, 2010

India Book Review: Between the Assassinations, by Aravind Adiga

Duly celebrated young Indian author Aravind Adiga's debut novel, The White Tiger, won the 2008 Man Booker Prize and shot the young man to stardom. I've still not read that book. It is sitting on my virtual bookshelf, which is to say that it is stored on my partner's Kindle that I haven't yet deigned to use, which means it stands a tiny chance of achieving the paradigmatic distinction of being the first electronic book I ever read.

However, my actual non-virtual bookshelf is blessedly still full of actual non-virtual books, one of which is Adiga's second book published (but first written), Between the Assassinations, a collection of short tales ("a novel of stories") set in a fictional town of Kittur on the southwest Indian coast during the seemingly arbitrary but nevertheless poetically named era in India's history between the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the assassination of her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

Arbitrary, because the stories follow no discernible chronological order, nor are they pegged to any specific date during that seven-year span, nor do they at any point reference either of the two assassinations as events significant to the narrative. Should any of these facts put you off reading the book, you'll be the sorer for it.

What Adiga writes in these character-driven stories of daily life in all corners, sectors, classes, religions and ages of Indian society tucked just beneath the innocent surface of fictional Kittur, is a tale of a transcendant, modern India, where the barriers, both physical and culturally imagined, between all corners, sectors, classes, religions and ages of Indian society are being torn down by the thrust of modernity, which as a character itself takes the thematic forms of, for example, a globalized economy, linguistic convergence and domination, identity politics of sub-national groups, and the better-informed but ceaselessly futile revolt of the have-nots against the haves--all of which characterize India's coming of new age in the late 1980s.

And, as the prose comprises the earliest, rawest writings of a young, talented author, Adiga's style is wonderfully sardonic, purposeful, and not at all off-key when it hits the occasional epiphanous note.

You should read this book.

Between the Assassinations
By Aravind Adiga
Free Press, 2009
339 pages

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