Vishram Society Tower A is an aging apartment tower that still retains a trace of its former appeal as a respectable middle-class residence in a slum-infested district in Mumbai. Its longtime residents, mostly families and retirees, possess a sense of belonging towards their building. But this is severely tested when a property tycoon or “builder” makes a stunning offer to them to move out so he can redevelop the building.
The second novel from Aravind Adiga, who won the Booker Prize in 2008 for his debut book The White Tiger, Last Man in Tower is a tragicomic look at how the residents of Tower A deal with the offer from the builder to leave their revered building. The book starts off a little mundane but gradually tensions build up as the residents increasingly become tempted by the offer. The plot twists a bit, tackling multiple issues like greed, poverty, inequality, and human nature, especially how people sacrifice their ideals for their families. As the book is wholly set in Mumbai, India, it puts a spotlight on local issues like corruption and the prioritizing of development, mostly of high-end apartments and buildings, over providing for the mass poor and working class, some which is also a common sign of urbanization in many developing cities around the world.
There are several key tenants, including Masterji, a retired schoolteacher who copes with recently losing his wife and has a tense relationship with his son and daughter-in-law, Sanjeeta, a housewife who is devoted to her teenage mentally-disabled son and is willing to do anything to get him cured, Miss Rego, otherwise known as “Battleship” for her stout socialist views, and Ajwani, a greedy property agent. The builder Shah may be one of the less unscrupulous in the business but is not averse to using dark means to get his way, especially involving his henchman Shanmugham. As Shah makes his generous offer, while augmenting it with something extra for a few of the more influential tenants, resistance from the tenants gradually melts away except for one stubborn holdout who sees staying in his longtime home as a moral quest.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story but I’ll just say it doesn’t end well.