Selection Day, Mr. Adiga’s third novel, supplies further proof that his Booker Prize, won for The White Tiger in 2008, was no fluke. He is not merely a confident storyteller but also a thinker, a skeptic, a wily entertainer, a thorn in the side of orthodoxy and cant ... Mr. Adiga’s take on the world often makes you consider what the apocalypse might sound like as reported by the BBC’s Hindi service ... Mr. Adiga, who was born in India and attended Columbia and Oxford, again displays what might be his greatest gifts as a postcolonial novelist: His strong sense of how the world actually works, and his ability to climb inside the minds of characters from vastly different social strata ... Selection Day is not perfect. Its plot loses altitude on occasion...But I don’t come to novels for plot — or I rarely do, at any rate. What this novel offers is the sound of a serious and nervy writer working at near the top of his form.
Adiga’s wit and raw sympathy will carry uninitiated readers beyond their ignorance of cricket ... There’s nothing boring here, though. Adiga’s paragraphs bounce along like a ball hit hard down a dirt street. One gets the general direction, but the vectors of his story can change at any moment as we chase after these characters ... What’s uncomfortable about this story begins like an itch, but for a time, the zaniness of Adiga’s novel camouflages its darker themes ... Selection Day evolves into a bittersweet reflection on the limits of what we can select ... Adiga’s voice is so exuberant, his plotting so jaunty, that the sadness of this story feels as though it is accumulating just outside our peripheral vision.
Sadly, despite rich individual narratives, there is little time allowed to linger over star or bit player. In Adiga’s India of ancient rules and modern life, where nothing and everything is illegal, the cast of Indians, with their singular depravities, perversions, and fantasies, are folded into the stew of slum and cityscape at high speed. In pacing that seems more screenplay than novel, the story careens through domestic, street, and cricketing scenes like a cross between Danny Boyle’s Slum Dog Millionaire and Craig Gillespie’s Million Dollar Arm, to a raucous chorus made up of India’s police, small and large entrepreneurs, politicians, film stars, crows, pigeons, and vehicular traffic.
The present novel is also a satire, but it goes more deeply into hearts of its characters than its predecessors and, in that way, is an even more accomplished work ... Adiga’s disgust with the inequity, exploitation, and hypocrisy of Indian society runs through the novel in a subtle, acidic current, but it is also spelled out, in one case by himself ... Except for providing a short, insouciant glossary of cricketing terms, Adiga does not pander to those of us for whom the game is a mystery. Instead, he writes about cricket just as his characters see and understand it. But whether one has made cricket one’s life study or just blundered on in American innocence, one can still thoroughly appreciate the predicaments, conflicts, and torments of Adiga’s characters, and that, after all, is this fine novel’s real subject.
By way of these men and boys — each suffering a private yearning and anguish — Adiga interrogates his country’s cricket mania, including the sport’s rampant betting scandals and corruption. His take is both satirical and affectionate as he shows how the sport is less a means of lifting gifted kids out of poverty than reinforcing boundaries of privilege in rather ruthless ways ... He makes beautiful sentences; creates wonderfully eccentric, original characters; and moves his plot along at a brisk pace. There’s energy and wit on every page ... as Adiga explores themes of ambition, failure, homophobia and threats to freedom — whether on a personal or national level — he has produced a nearly flawless novel, and further proof that he is among our finest contemporary novelists.
Cricket is, of course, a wonderful way of writing about shattered dreams – both personal and national. As such, it isn’t necessary to know the game to appreciate this finely told, often moving and intelligent novel. Cricket here represents what is loved in India, and yet is being corrupted by the changes within the nation ... Adiga’s novel takes in class, religion and sexuality – all issues that disrupt the dream of a sport that cares for nothing but talent and temperament. Because Adiga is a novelist, and one who has grown in his art since his Booker prizewinning debut, The White Tiger, he knows how to talk about all these matters through his characters and their compelling stories.
A danger of writing didactic fiction is that characters become overly schematic. Adiga guards against it by complicating the Tendulkar-Kambli comparisons. Not only is Javed from India’s Muslim minority, unlike Tendulkar, he is also gay, a double outsider in spite of his wealth. Manju’s transgressive relationship with him provides some of the best passages of the book, a sensually told and unpredictably plotted love affair ... In cricketing terms, Selection Day mixes incisive stroke play with streaky shots. Adiga’s prose has a bustling energy that makes it highly readable but also reduces characters to certain cartoonish traits ... Yet risky innings have their own entertainment value, and so it proves with Adiga’s adventurous Selection Day too.
...a spirited if uneven tale that depicts the triumphs and travails of two brothers, athletic prodigies whose competition threatens to tear them apart ... The elements of Selection Day are strong throughout: a dramatic, readable arc; satire glinting with hints of tragedy; a witty, vibrant voice. Adiga also deftly teases out the strands of India’s fluid society...He wrestles with transitions in places, though, especially in the first half, unwieldy sentences that escaped the eye of his editor. Fortunately, the novel loses its awkwardness as it gains velocity, illuminating a country in the throes of change as well as one boy’s troubled yet beguiling embrace of himself.
Selection Day casts a beady eye on these specious myths. It’s one of many commendable things about this book that it both relishes the brothers’ talents and presents them within a bigger picture, revealing the many varieties of corruption and damaging obsession that surround such endeavors ... Adiga invests even his minor characters with pathos and depth. The selfishness that drives the boys’ father is rooted in credible pain. We perceive him as his sons do: part monster, part clown, all bumpkin ... Most passionately of all, Selection Day is a novel about awakening sexuality ... This is a novel with broad sweep, accomplished with commendable economy and humor, in a sinewy, compact prose that has the grace and power of a gifted athlete.
...[a] scathingly satiric novel of modern Indian life ... Adiga’s account of the brothers’ efforts to grow up and fly free of the nets holding them back is itself held back by Adiga’s broad and satiric focus, which stunts his characters’ growth and results in a disjointed narrative. While much more ambitious, Selection Day is ultimately less effective than Adiga’s tighter, Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger ... But Selection Day is also filled with smart, spot-on observations about the perils of growing up in a country where both sports and politics have become increasingly degraded forms of mass entertainment.
Adiga writes a prose of crazed energy, bright color and acrobatic logic. He sometimes leaves you wondering what, exactly, is transpiring between characters. But you're never in doubt of its vitality. His detail on 21st-century Mumbai — with its opulent high-rises cheek by jowl with its squalid slums, and its garbage-strewn creeks a short stroll from its emerald cricket grounds — couldn't be more vivid, while his portrait of the broken family Kumar is both comical and searing ... A few minor characters feel too much like mouthpieces for the author, but Adiga has so many tricks up his sleeve that his lecture-mode never lasts for long.
Class resentment is the gasoline that fuels the brothers’ ambitions and gives this novel its noisy volatility. The gritty urban realism that animated The White Tiger (2008) and Last Man in Tower (2011) is again on display, and though Selection Day is a slighter work—more a slice of life than a sprawling social exposé—it churns with the same propulsive energy. The book’s most touching, if somewhat underdeveloped, aspect concerns the rivalry between Radha and Manjunath themselves, who begin as allies against their controlling father and the wealthier players who dominate the sport and end as rivals for a coveted place on the Indian national team. A story with biblical echoes emerges, as it’s Manjunath, an eerily coldblooded genius between the wickets, who steals his older brother’s birth rite. Their relationship will resonate with American readers who usually regard cricket with bewilderment.