Between the Assassinations, by Aravind Adiga (2008)

Adiga managed the impressive feat of winning the 2008 Booker for his first published novel, The White Tiger (2008), which success allowed him to easily find a publisher for this earlier book. Set in a fictionalized version of the town of Kitturu, in Karnataka state, India (notably, Adiga’s Kitturu is on the coast of the Arabian sea and not inland), we are introduced to a wide variety of characters from different social classes, professions, and castes in a town that resembles Adiga’s own nearby home city of Mangalore. The assassinations of the title are those of Indira Gandhi (1984) and her son Rajiv Gandhi (1991), both prime ministers of India (the Gandhi family – no relation to Mahatma Gandhi – are even more prone to achieving high office and dying tragically than the Kennedy family in the US).

This book reads like a series of sketches by someone developing their craft as a writer, and indeed I gather that The White Tiger (which I’ve yet to read) includes many similar characters. Despite the lack of central plot or connection, the stories together paint a picture of the town as vivid and funny as Garrison Keillor’s stories of Lake Wobegon. I especially appreciated the self-referential description of a would-be author in the last story of the book, in which Adiga reflects on the situation of a writer from the city trying to capture daily rural life; it reminded me of a passage in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy where a character defends himself for writing in English instead of an Indian language, clearly answering Seth’s own critics. Between the Assassinations is a fine first book, and I’m curious to read the novel which made him famous.