AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR * A NEW YORK TIMES and WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK
From Aravind Adiga, the bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger, a “ferociously brilliant” (Slate) novel about two brothers in a Mumbai slum who are raised by their crazy, obsessive father to be star cricket players that “offers the sound of a serious and nervy writer working at the top of his form” (TheNew York Times).
Manjunath Kumar is fourteen and living in a slum in Mumbai. He knows he is good at cricket—if not as good as his older brother, Radha. He knows that he fears and resents his domineering and cricket-obsessed father, admires his brilliantly talented sibling, and is fascinated by curious scientific facts and the world of CSI. But there are many things, about himself and about the world, that he doesn’t know. Sometimes it even seems as though everyone has a clear idea of who Manju should be, except Manju himself. When Manju meets Radha’s great rival, a mysterious Muslim boy privileged and confident in all the ways Manju is not, everything in Manju’s world begins to change, and he is faced by decisions that will challenge his sense of self and of the world around him.
Filled with unforgettable characters from across India’s social strata—the old scout everyone calls Tommy Sir; Anand Mehta, the big-dreaming investor; Sofia, a wealthy, beautiful girl and the boys’ biggest fan—Selection Day “brings a family, a city, and an entire country to scabrous and antic life” (Chicago Tribune).
Aravind 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” (The Washington Post). It is, simply, “extraordinary” (The Atlantic).
This reading group guide for Selection Day includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
From Aravind Adiga, the bestselling, Booker Prize–winning author of The White Tiger, comes a dazzling new novel about two brothers in a Mumbai slum who are raised by their obsessive father to become cricket stars, and whose coming of age threatens their relationship, future, and sense of themselves.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Selection Day opens with a young Manju thinking about the darkness of kattale, secrets, and his mother (p. 1). On page 23 Manju describes his “secret gift, this mind-reading power, [that] had come to him from his mother.” How do Manju’s secrets and his and Radha’s mysterious, absent mother set the stage for the novel?
2. Mohan tells his boys that “if you really want to understand the life that waits for you as adults, this is the only proverb you need: ‘Big thief walks free. Small thief gets caught’” (p. 29). What does this mean and why is this a key proverb for Mohan? How does this saying play out in the rest of the story?
3. “All batting—all good batting—starts with superstition” (p. 73). How do superstitions affect each of the Kumars, on and off the cricket pitch?
4. Both Mohan and Tommy Sir have a deep distrust of the male body, and they believe cricket helps boys to master it and ignore filthy urges. Why are they so suspicious of the boys and their natural instincts? How does cricket factor in?
5. Tommy Sir, whose one great ambition is to find the ultimate cricket player, also believes that “only failure—the right kind of failure—has tragic grandeur,” and failure excites and arouses him (p. 141). What does this reveal about Tommy Sir and his pursuits?
6. After Radha begins to falter at bat, he rails against the sea. “Someone up there was rewriting the promised contract, and Radha Kumar, who could do nothing to undo the changes to the script, who had learned—as his father had—what it meant to be only a man before he had learned what it meant to be fully a man, bludgeoned the waves around him” (p. 182). What is the difference between “only a man” and “fully a man”? How does this difference characterize both Radha and Mohan?
7. On page 185, Manju says Javed is his “real father.” What does he mean by that? What would Javed think of that statement?
8. Sofia influences both Radha and Manju’s lives. When she picks Manju up in her car to talk to him about the rumors that he’s gay, in the background is Durga Puja, the festival of the Mother Goddess (p. 199). Is Sofia a mother figure in the novel? A goddess? What roles does she play?
9. Tommy Sir comes to believe that “a great sportsman is a kind of monster” and that Manju’s hatred—for his father, for Tommy Sir, for cricket itself—makes him a great batsman (p. 224). What does this hatred change for Manju as an athlete, as a man? How does hatred fuel other characters in Selection Day?
10. After Manju talks with Javed’s father, he sees that Javed’s many personalities, built up and then discarded, are a reaction to his father’s manipulations (p. 245). Why does Javed create these personas and destroy himself in this way to get back at others?
11. “Out there, Manju thought, with regret—a regret he would feel so keenly for the rest of his life—there must be fellows who are actually proud of their fathers” (p. 246). Why is this such a painful realization for Manju? Does this play into his decision not to be a father himself (p. 284)?
12. In Hindu mythology the world is thought to rest on the backs of four elephants who stand on the shell of a turtle. Elephants are often masculine symbols, while turtles are feminine. Turtles appear throughout the novel—Manju and Radha observe them near their home in the slum, Radha imagines a turtle speaking to him in his dreams, and Manju imagines seeing turtles that become Mohan, Radha, and Tommy Sir, as he gazes into Javed’s batting helmet (p. 261). What do turtles signify for Manju? For Radha? Why are they important?
13. Why does Manju ultimately reject Javed (p. 262), and with the words “you homo” that he and his brother had previously taunted Javed with?
14. Selection Day ends with Radha and Manju meeting for Manju’s birthday, and Radha finally pinching Manju until he agrees to fight “till one of us falls” (p. 297). How does this closing scene reflect the novel as a whole?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. In honor of benefactor Anand Mehta, have Indian and Australian food and drinks with your group as you discuss the book. Vegemite, samosas, Fosters, biryani—use your imagination for a meal your book club won’t forget.
2. Research Sachin Tendulkar, the “god of cricket,” who once made a pilgrimage to Kukke Subramanya temple to worship and improve his career. What else is there in the famous cricket star’s life that might have influenced Selection Day?
3. For more of Aravind Adiga’s insightful fiction and characters who navigate modern Indian society and the caste system, read The White Tiger as well and discuss how the two novels intersect and diverge.
Aravind Adiga was born in India in 1974 and attended Columbia and Oxford universities. He is the author of Selection Day, the Booker Prize-winning novel The White Tiger, and the story collection Between the Assassinations. He lives in Mumbai, India.
“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... Powerful... Soulful... What this novel offers is the sound of a serious and nervy writer working at near the top of his form. Like a star cricket batter, Mr. Adiga stands and delivers, as if for days."
– Dwight Garner, New York Times
"The best novel I read this year... In its primal triangle of rival brothers and a maniacal father, hell-bent on success in cricket in India, Adiga grips the passions while painting an extraordinary panorama of contemporary sports, greed, celebrity, and mundanity. As a literary master, Adiga has only advanced in his art since his Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger."
– Mark Greif, The Atlantic
“Adiga seems boundlessly gifted once again. 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… Adiga superbly captures the intimacy between the two brothers, as they bicker, tease and protect each other… 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.”
– Carmela Ciuraru, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Adiga’s wit and raw sympathy will carry uninitiated readers beyond their ignorance of cricket…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…Selection Day evolves into a bittersweet reflection on the limits of what we can select. Choice — that most enticing Western ideal — does not thrive everywhere equally…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.”
– Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"A compelling tale of cricket and corruption... A finely told, often moving, and intelligent novel... Adiga has grown in his art since his Booker prizewinning debut, The White Tiger."
– The Guardian
“Adiga is an exceptionally talented novelist, and the subtlety with which he presents the battle between India’s aspirants and its left-behind poor is exceptional.”
– Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Selection Day is, by any judgment, top-rate fiction from a young master... Adiga’s plot is gripping."
– The Times (UK)
"An engrossing and nuanced coming-of-age novel... Adiga has succeeded in composing a powerful individual story that, at the same time, does justice to life's (and India's) great indeterminacies."--The Sunday Times (UK)
– Sunday Times (UK)
"Sensually told and unpredictably plotted... Adiga's prose has a bustling energy that makes it highly readable."
– The Financial Times (UK)
"A captivating and sensitive coming-of-age story that tackles various new themes: the confounding nature of sexuality; the darkness that accompanies excellence and achievement... Adiga’s characters, like his settings, are getting more complex with each book, and this complexity makes his indictment of the contemporary world all the more urgent and convincing."
– Times Literary Supplement (UK)
"A master class in integrating character and landscape... Peppered with dashes of humor, this dark and unflinching story is an unqualified triumph."
– Booklist, starred review
"Brilliant, raw energy ricocheting off of every line."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[A] scathingly satiric novel of modern Indian life…ambitious… smart, spot-on.”
– The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
– Harper’s Bazaar
"A great read, even if you're not a fan of cricket.”
“Adiga writes a prose of crazed energy, bright color and acrobatic logic... comical and searing… Selection Day brings a family, a city and an entire country to scabrous and antic life.”
– Michael Upchurch, The Chicago Tribune
“Ambitious… filled with smart, spot-on observations about the perils of growing up.”
– Mike Fisher, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Spirited…the elements of Selection Day are strong throughout: a dramatic, readable arc; satire glinting with hints of tragedy; a witty, vibrant voice.”
– Hamilton Cain, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
– Ru Freeman, The Boston Globe
“Exuberant and incisive…Each sentence flickers like a match with life. Adiga swoops in and out of his characters' inner voices with frightening precision and speed, laying out the paranoia, obsessions, tokens, idols, and self-made prisons of each man in a few bright, laserlike sentences…Richness and rot, decadence and decay, cricket and corruption: These make up Adiga's Mumbai. Selection Day asks: Amidst all this, is there any such thing as freedom?”
– Annalisa Quinn, NPR
“Many novelists are called Dickensian, but Adiga comes closer than most, albeit with every last speck of Victorian sentimentality suctioned out. His characters are brightly and sharply drawn and animated with great energy; reading about his Mumbai is like taking a double shot of espresso…You need not know anything about cricket in any of its variations to savor Selection Day. In fact, you don’t need to have any interest in sports at all. Cricket serves Adiga as a marvelously flexible metaphor: for the (lost) dream of civic integrity, for tradition and authority, for the contest that is life in a rapidly evolving economy…Class is Adiga’s great theme, and his depiction of its workings in India ranges from the fondly comical to the savage…[a] ferociously brilliant novel.”
– Laura Miller, Slate
“Mr. Adiga writes with customary acerbity and astuteness. 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 and Last Man in Tower is again on display…Selection Day churns with the same propulsive energy.”
– Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“This is a novel with a broad sweep, accomplished with commendable economy and humor, in a sinewy, compact prose that has the grace and power of a gifted athlete. And it pulses with affection for Mumbai itself; the effortless sociological dissection recalls Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers... Selection Day transcends sport. This is a book about choice and destiny, smothering family ambition and the pull of a young person’s nascent identity. You’re just going to have to trust me that the cricket is worth it.”
– Marcel Theroux, The New York Times Book Review
“Energetic… Adiga’s barbed prose deftly skewers India’s tangled religious and class dynamics, and its literary stereotypes.”