Title: Between the assassinations
Author: Aravind Adiga
Despite being an entertaining read, Between the Assassinations is overall a disappointing book for it felt more like an unfinished product that left me hanging in the air after completing it.
I confessed that I picked this book mainly because I was impressed by Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, focusing on exploring the highs and lows of modern India’s economic prosperity and their impact, particularly on the poor in the society.
This book was and still remains a hit for me because of the seriousness and depth of topics discussed but written in a dark comical manner through a main protagonist Balram Halwi, leaving readers laughing albeit in a bittersweet way.
Perhaps The White Tiger raised the bar too high, Between the Assassinations, which was in fact penned before the former, appeared lackluster, lacking the links and connections necessary to string the bits and bobs together for a coherent piece.
The novel, as the title suggests, was set in between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991, composed of multiple short stories taking place in the fictitious town of Kittur, Southwest India.
Through presenting story vignettes, Adiga cleverly leaves us with fragmented but diverse viewpoints about their struggles and hardships surviving in a town.
For instance, Ziauddin is a Muslim village boy who finds himself facing religious discrimination when working in Kittur, a predominantly Hindu state, and was almost lured into committing acts of terrorism. Another character is Shankara, a mixed-caste child, grew increasingly frustrated while trying to negotiate his identity and place in a class-conscious society, planted a bomb in his professor’s class as an act of defiance.
These are just some of the interesting characters to help tell the story of India’s post-independence problems and underlying social tensions between the rich and poor, higher and lower caste members, and English-speaking and non-English speaking population.
Given the complexities of the issues it tries to discuss, unfortunately, the book has so much potential yet to be fully uncovered, like a raw, unpolished gem awaiting further excavations.
Individual stories are at times underdeveloped and could be better elaborated to bring out the full flavor of these larger-than-life individuals.
One of them is a deliveryman called Chenayya who sends big furniture and electronic items using his rickshaw and feels terribly bitter about his job, one that is low paying and physically exhausting.
Throughout the story, he tries to find alternative jobs but is faced with limited successes. Just when I was full of anticipation to find out how Chenayya might try to resolve his problem, the story ended abruptly on a curt and short note where he realized his only way out is to remain as he is – a mere cog in the wheel of life.
“Those who are born poor in this country are fated to die poor,” he said. “There is no hope for us, and no need of pity.”
Such resignation to the cruelties of life seemed rather unsuitable for the character of Chenayya, who is portrayed earlier on as a feisty young adult filled with angst. More is needed to explain for such changes in behavior.
Moreover, it would also be interesting to find out how his opinions might changes job and the society’s inequalities further on in his life when he gets married or have kids, rather than rushing readers on to embark on a new story.
If you only have time to read one novel, I would go for The White Tiger with the cohesive and comprehensive story plot. Between the Assassinations would be better off reserved for another day.