The Type of Writer I Want To Be
The term “social portraiture” turned up in something I read recently and it has stayed in my mind ever since. I think of Tom Wolfe, for example, and his Bonfire of the Vanities. What is most fascinating to me is human behavior in the context of our society. I guess I always felt that way, which is why I loved Balzac’s Cousin Bette and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, among others. As more exotic societies become more like our own–thanks to globalization, the internet, and easy travel–new writers are emerging who provide insights into the human behavior of those cultures. The differences are delicious, but the overwhelming commonality of drives shared by all members of our species becomes even more obvious. Now I know this isn’t an original thought but as I just finished reading Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga this fact hit me in the face like one of the unexpected monsoons described in the book. Adiga’s first novel, The White Tiger, is one of the best books I have read in the past ten years. I’ve come to think of Adiga as India’s Tom Wolfe. These authors, among others, paint verbal portraits not only of their characters but of the societies in which they live.
Last Man in Tower has particular meaning to me as it is about a real estate developer in Mumbai. If you change the name and location he could be any one of my clients in New York. He is trying to buy out the residents of a building called Vishram Society that seems to be structured similarly to a New York co-op. There is a hold-out, a retired school teacher named Masterji, and the story revolves around how his neighbors and friends of thirty+ years react and take action as their potential fortunes are threatened by the obstinate Masterji.
Not as good as The White Tiger, not as much passion or anger, but a convincing glimpse into the changing landscape of Mumbai and the behavior of humans whose goodness and self-interest battle it out.
Worthwhile read: 6