I read a few books about India while I was getting ready for my trip. This was a deceptively smart one. It reads like a page turner, but is very ambitious. There’s a great story told in a great voice, but there is also a bitter satire, a comedy of manners, a pretty damning social critique and an elaborate allegory of modernization and capitalism. But it’s all so well done, that you could ignore everything and just enjoy the story if you wanted.
Oddly enough, this book also turned out to be the one that was most connected to my experience of daily life while I was there. To make sense of geography, I had to talk about “the Darkness.” The pattern of animal names was connected to the Hindu symbolism I was seeing everywhere and reading about in my history book. Even the exasperated-admiring-resigned stance toward caste and class was true to the impossibilities of street life in big cities. The accuracy of the details just went on and on: the attitude of the rickshaw drivers, the odd disconnect of opulent-yet-tacky shopping malls in slums, and the contrast between the front and back of things.
As we were leaving Chennai, I think I saw a new novel by Adiga in hardcover in the window of a bookstore I couldn’t go back through security to visit. I’m looking forward to reading it.