I read Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winner “The White Tiger” almost a decade ago. Though I don’t much recollect exactly what happens in the story, I remember the feeling it left me with: I was enchanted. Balaram Halwai, the narrator of Adiga’s debut novel, was the kind of anti-hero I always fell for.
I recently watched the film adaptation on Netflix and was reminded of what a wonderful storyteller Adiga is. I hadn’t read any of his other works like “Last Man in Tower” and “Between the Assassinations” which is why I decided to read his most recent book, “Amnesty”. Priyanka Chopra, actor and producer of the movie, The White Tiger, recommended it during Marie Claire’s Shelf Portrait where celebrities talk about books they love.
This much I will say: Adiga is a fine writer. He knows his craft and his stories, I feel, will always incite interesting conversations. Amnesty made me think about my immigrant friends and relatives and how tough things must have been for them when they first moved to various cities abroad. You have to give credit to Adiga for making you reflect on things that you necessarily wouldn’t think about and label other peoples’ problems.
Amnesty is the story of a Sri Lanka immigrant Dhananjaya Rajaratnam, known as Danny, who has overstayed his student visa in Sydney, Australia. As an illegal, he works as a cleaner at rich people’s homes and lives in a grocery storeroom. In four years, he has learnt to hide, to blend in when necessary, and tried to live a ‘normal’ life. Then, Danny finds out that one of his clients, Radha Thomas, has been killed. He is sure the murderer is another client of his who was having an affair with the victim. And thus begins Danny’s moral dilemma: Should he go to the police with the evidence he has and risk being deported? Or should he let it go and carry on with his life?
Amnesty is a story of how cultures and societies, across the world, make immigrants feel like they don’t belong and seeking validation thus becomes a large part of their lives. That ‘important message’ aspect of Amnesty is quite commendable. Adiga manages to convey immigrants’ pain, worries, and issues with crystal clarity. But that’s one part of fiction writing. It’s how well you manage the other feat—narrating the story in a way that reconfigures a reader’s brain wirings—that determines whether a book is good.
The problem with Amnesty isn’t the lack of a plot but that much of it happens inside the protagonist’s head. It’s his thoughts and feelings. It’s his side of the story. It’s only how he interprets the world around him and what’s happening that we get to see. Though the story takes place in the span of a day, you feel like you have been with Danny for years, which, in this case, isn’t really a good thing because Danny is a mundane character.
You are always confused and your thought processes are severely restricted because someone else’s thoughts are being fed to you. You feel like you are being spun around in circles and the effect really is dizzying.
I still wouldn’t say Amnesty is a bad book. I can see why it could appeal to some people, especially to those who have experienced life as an immigrant. But it wasn’t for me and neither is it for those for whom a good narrative structure is as important as the story.