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Author:
• Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras, now Chennai, India. He grew up in Mangalore where he went to Canara High School. In1990 he graduated from St. Aloysius High School in Andhra Pradesh. He emigrated in the 90s with his family to Sydney Australia and continued his studies in St. James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, followed by English literature at Columbia College, Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1997. He also studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. Starting his career he worked as a journalist for the Financial Times and Time Magazine.

Aravind Adiga lives in Mumbai, India and has written three novels to date:
Last Man In Tower, published in 2011.
Between The Assassinations (short stories/essays) published in 2009.
The White Tiger, his début novel, published in 2008, has sold many copies in several countries – won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction and will be made into a film.

The story of The White Tiger is narrated during the course of seven nights as a series of letters addressed to the Chinese Prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who was visiting India at the time. The narrator is the novel’s main protagonist, the astute, determined, hard working, Balram Halwai. The Chinese premier wants “to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips.”

Balram writes the letter to Wen Jiabao from his 150-square-foot office, which is the only one in Bangalore“with its own chandelier”. The letter is about Indian entrepreneurship and explains that, despite the servitude, destitution and corruption prevailing socially and politically in present-day India, there is still some integrity to be found and some hope for mankind.

Balram Halwai writes about how, according to his school teacher, despite being gifted with an intelligence as rare as the white tiger, he couldn’t pursue his studies. He is born into an impoverished family and has to do menial work in the village tea shop. Nevertheless, he aspires to a better future than his father, the rickshaw puller, who died of tuberculosis in extreme poverty.

The highly ambitious Balram tries to improve his status by becoming a driver/servant to a rich landlord from his village as a first step to climbing the ladder to a better life. He wants to prove that he is indeed a rare feline species, an atypical Indian who refuses to perpetuate or be part of the “Rooster Coop” establishment, as he calls it metaphorically. His aim is to break the Indian ingrained class boundaries taken for granted by society from top to bottom and find a way out of this ambit to freedom.

Throughout the narrative the story changes rapidly, especially after Balram travels with his employer to New Delhi. The big capital becomes more of an eye-opener for the countryman that he is and makes him firmer in his beliefs, while kindling his desire for a brighter life. He becomes a “Thinking Man”, a sort of a philosopher, a thief and a murderer, before ending up as an amoral, successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

He fulfils his ambition by becoming the proud owner of a taxi service through his auspicious Machiavellian plan of killing his master and stealing his money to finance his long coveted project – the White Tiger by now knows the law of the jungle. Balram watches his employers and proves to be a fast learner and a good observer, he becomes aware that in a corrupt society bribes are the only means to a successful business.

There are two phases in the novel, two different worlds: the rural dreary “Darkness”, the name given to a grim and rustic small village where Balram spent his young years in poverty before moving with Ashok, the young son of his employer, to the stimulating “Light” of the vibrant capital, New Delhi. In New Delhi he finds to his amazement the same constrained opportunities in the conventional, “Rooster Coop”. The wide breach he left behind, impersonated in the masters and chauffeurs/servants, is whirling around him. Even in this big city there is no escaping from class hierarchies and injustice.

The author is describing the current India and the considerable differences between the poor, backward rural areas and the advanced big cities. Through his writing the reader can detect his indignation, exasperation and concern about this important problem which might lead to an explosion one day if it is not addressed soon.

Aravind Adiga, tackles an array of subjects about Indian society. There is the caste system, the multiple religions and sects, the family ties and duties, democracy, corruption and advanced technology.

Balram Halwai, the main character, is interesting, witty and captivating, despite cool-bloodedly murdering his employer who treated him well. Nevertheless, in spite of his grim future in an unjust society maintained by the conservative mentality of people, is his act justified or even excusable? Couldn’t he find another way to attain his bid for autonomy without resorting to drastic measures? Knowing that reprisals will be swift on his family who will be killed because of his deed, as is customary in his village, are we to look upon him as a utopian, a rebel, a visionary or a common ruthless rogue, a social Machiavellian climber?

Through his main, cynical protagonist, the author is addressing the imperative future adjustments that have to be made in India, between the haves and the have nots. The well-being of citizens needs to be part of the economic prosperity of a country, as Balram says very succinctly to Wen Jiabao: “Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many”.

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Author:
• Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Jenni Mills was born in Birmingham, England, in 1952 and was educated at Edgbaston High School for girls. From 1970 to 1973 Mills studied at Sussex University, followed by an MA with distinction in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University where she is at present tutoring part-time. Jenni Mills wrote most of Crow Stone while preparing for her Creative Writing MA. .

Jenni Mills worked in broadcasting for nearly thirty years before writing her first novel. She has presented and produced programmes for BBC radio, four of which won her an award and has worked as a director for both BBC-TV and ITV. She also works as a freelance television director and has written articles for newspapers and magazines.

Jenni Mills, like her character Katie, has been very fond of archeology since her childhood and the fact that the limestone quarries around where she was brought-up have been mined since Roman times, influenced Mills to write Crow Stone without too much effort.

In one of her interviews, Jenni Mills says she found a quarry near Corsham and went underground there in order to be able to describe in detail what goes on in the mines. She found the experience “thrilling rather than scary”. She conversed with a female mining engineer after Crow Stone was published and realised that she described Kit’s job well, when the woman mining engineer told her: “I believe you were writing about me”. She now lives in Wiltshire, in the West of England.

Jenni Mills has written two novels to date: Crow Stone published in 2007 and The Buried Circle published in 2009.

Crow Stone intertwines the past and present story of Katie, an introverted, vulnerable teenager who lives a difficult, under-pressure life, with her austerely temperamental and violent father since her mother left them when she was small. Katie is a bright student who realises her childhood dream and becomes the successful mining engineer Kit Parry, despite her difficult relationship with her father and her uncovering his atrocious deed in the summer of her fourteenth year which changes her life for ever. The novel follows the evolution of Katie and her interaction with the various occurrences and people that she comes across in life.

After several years of hard work, Kit accepts an interesting project for stabilising the dangerously unstable quarries that run under Bath, her home town that she had left in a big black car when she was fourteen and decided then to change her name to Kit as a new start in life. She has never returned to Bath since then, nor ever seen her father again. All the painful memories that Katie has tried to bury all these years are going to resurface and haunt her on her return, twenty years later. Her father now dead, the adult Katie who becomes Kit is still susceptible on the inside but offensive on the outside. Some wounds are difficult to get rid of, they stay implanted in the psyche for ever.

In her new assignment, Kit has to withstand the hostility of the other male workers in a field dominated by men and where workers believe that a female engineer brings bad luck to the mine shafts. Not everything is negative though – the long sleeping flame is rekindled when Kit finds out that the site manager happens to be the same Gary Bennett that her superficial, foolish, unreliable, friends, Trish and Poppy and herself used to be infatuated with from afar when they were all teenagers.

The author describes masterfully and in an amusing way, the psychology and behaviour of teenage girls portrayed by Katie, Trish and Poppy, whether at school or outside it, underlining Trish’s strong character which contrasts with Poppy’s and Katie’s.

Katie is very enthusiastically passionate about archaeology and geology and ironically the two big events in her life take place while she is in the quarries. Her first disturbingly macabre discovery was at Crow Stone quarry during the summer of her fourteenth birthday and the second fantastically thrilling event of the decade was the uncovering of the lost Roman Mithraic temple with the help of her colleague and friend Martin Ekwall, the senior lecturer in archaeology at Sussex University.

The story takes place in Bath, one of the oldest and most charming cities in England, full of historic relics above and below ground. The author embarks with her readers on a journey of concealed underground labyrinths of quarries and the historic, touristic attractions of Bath, like the famous Royal Crescent built by the eighteenth century Freemason, John Wood. There is also some information about the Mithraic mysterious religion which was practised in the Roman Empire, a cult with a saviour, sacrifice and rebirth.

Crow Stone as the author puts it, is about “fear and survival” and the setting turns out to be perfect on “all levels: mythical, metaphorical and emotional”. A captivating psychological thriller with a well constructed plot.

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