3.5 out of 5: This collection of short stories cleverly masquerades as a travel guide to the Indian town of Kittur, a fictional town of 193,432 residents located "on India's southwestern coast, between Goa and Calicut, and almost equidistant from the two." The book opens with a map of Kittur, labeled with the town’s streets, neighborhoods, and other landmarks, and the stories are named after these points of interest (e.g., The Railway Station, Lighthouse Hill, and Salt Market Village). Each story takes place “between the assassinations” of Indira Gandhi (1984) and Rajiv Gandhi (1991) and begins with a brief overview of the history and significance of the titular landmark written in the deadpan prose of a travel guide:
The famous Kittamma Devi Temple, a modern structure built in the Tamil style, stands on the site where an ancient shrine to the goddess is believed to have existed. It is within walking distance of the train station, and is often the first port of call for visitors to the town.Adiga’s unobtrusive prose is peppered with just the right amount of sparkling phrases (“sunburned leaves” or “laminated” skies) to highlight its laudable restraint. The subtle cross-references and shared setting of these stories provide a kind of satisfying coherence often lacking in short story collections. This coherence, coupled with Adiga’s accomplished writing, almost makes up for the fact that too many of these stories lack sufficient direction. Without noticeable narrative arcs, some stories read more like random, surreptitious glimpses into ongoing lives. The glimpses are interesting but not as alive as they could be.