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Great characters lashed to a formulaic plot

Selection Day: A Novel - Aravind Adiga

I added this book to my "to-read" list after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. There was a lot about the description of the book that intrigued me, but perhaps what was most interesting was the idea of reading a story with a familiar premise (father drives his sons to succeed in sport) in the unfamiliar setting of modern-day India.


And this is exactly what Aravind Adiga delivers. It's the story of two teenage boys, Radha and Manju Kumar, who have been moved to Mumbai by their father Mohan in the hope that he can use their skills as cricket to escape from their family's poverty. Adiga's story centers on Manju, the younger of the two, who idolizes his older brother and dreams of becoming a forensic scientist. Together they share a loathing at the controlling lifestyle that their father imposes upon both of them and the hope of escape, yet their growing self-awareness and exploration of life in Mumbai sets them on two very paths towards adulthood.


Such a story is hardly a novel one, but uses it to explore themes in a very different setting -- a vibrant, cricket-obsessed Mumbai, with stark divides of wealth and poverty. It's a fluid world populated with a solid cast of supporting characters, from the cricket scout Tommy Boy desperate to define his legacy by finding a great player to the handsome middle-class Javed, who represents both the main competition for the brothers and the allure of a different life. What they all have in common is that they are all striving in one way or another -- the adults striving for wealth through the children they try to control like chess pieces, the children who seek to break free from that control and discover themselves before the world opening up before them. It is their growing realization of their power to determine their own fate that drives the story, even if it leads them in some very familiar directions.


And that is what disappointed me about the novel: the predictability of Adiga's plot. The whole story unfolds in an extremely formulaic fashion, with the ending telegraphed to its readers well before reach the book's midpoint. Perhaps my expectations were excessive, but I hoped for something more from an author who has won the Man Booker Prize for his previous work. What he has written is an enjoyable novel about two boys living in a world of in which the promise of youth intermixes with the desperation of poverty, but I couldn't help finishing it thinking that it could have been so much more than it was.

Oh, well, at least it got me to finally learn about the game of cricket.