[Review] Selection Days - Aravind Adiga

Title of Book: Selection Day
Author: Aravind Adiga
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Year: 2017
Language: English
Format: ARC
Pages: 215

From Aravind Adiga, the bestselling, Booker Prize­–winning author of The White Tiger, 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.
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 understanding of it, as well as his own self.
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—this book combines the best of The Art of Fielding and Slumdog Millionaire for a compulsive, moving story of adolescence and ambition, fathers, sons, and brothers. Selection Day is Adiga’s most absorbing, big-hearted novel to date, and proves why “with his gripping, amusing glimpse into the contradictions and perils of modern India, Aravind Adiga has cemented his reputation as the preeminent chronicler of his country’s messy present” (Newsweek).

Thanks to the publisher for providing me a copy of this ARC via Netgalley.
Radha Kumar and Manjunath Kumar were raised by their father to be cricketers. Not to be just any cricketers, but the best cricketers in the world. Growing up and living in a slum don’t break their determination. They have planned to improve their quality of live through India’s most beloved sport. Their training would be later tested on the selection day, where it would be decided whether they make the cut to be part of India’s national cricket team. But on the verge of selection day, Manju, the younger brother met and befriends Javed Ansari, a rich Muslim boy who tried to teach him about choices and freedom. As the selection day approaching both brothers discover more about their identities outside the cricketing world.
I honestly surprised that I manage to finish reading Selection Day. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the previous book written by Aravind Adiga, I never really enjoy sport-related entertainment; especially because I knew nothing about cricket before reading this book. It’s not a sport that I’m familiar with. I was hesitant picking up this book because I was afraid the cricket part would hinder my enjoyment of reading. But I end up loving what I read. Sure, there is still a lot of cricket-related stuff written in this book. It’s not the focus of this book, though.   
Selection Day is more of a coming of age story. It’s a tale of the underdog. It’s about father and sons relationship. It’s about brothers. It’s about all the above. Let’s talk about the Kumar family, starting with the father, Mohan Kumar. He’s a chutney salesman, his wife left him so he raised the brothers as a single parent. He has such distinct and strict principals and rules that he set upon his sons. Some of his rules sound weird and doesn’t make sense but later as we discover more of Mohan’s past we learn that those rules are based on his own experiences. His rules often make him appear antagonistic towards his sons. Even he said it himself in the book that if people wanted their sons to be the best cricketers they have to be ready to be hated by their sons. As a reader, I understand why his sons don’t like him. But I also understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s an obsessive father who wants success for his sons. Maybe his way is not the best way, but it’s the only way he knows how. That’s what makes me sympathize with his character. He’s not ‘just’ a bad father character. Had I read this book a bit younger, I would have had the tendency to side with the brothers. But reading this book now, I understand where both sides coming from.
Radha and Manju are obedient sons. Mohan has such high hopes for Radha. Radha was raised to be the best batsman in the world. But when Manju’s talent seems to overpower him, he freaks out because cricket is all he knows. Meanwhile, Manju is actually not that interested in cricket. He wants to study forensic and science. His situation makes him feel like he has no choice other than following what his father wants for him. This is where Javed Ansari comes. A privileged boy who in Manju’s eyes has all the freedom that he could get. Both sons are still on their way figuring out what they really want to do in life. Their struggles feel real and relatable to me that I can’t help but root for them. Even though there are still other characters in this book, these four are the ones that leave deep impressions on me.
There are many references in this book which I don’t get; especially the India’s pop culture ones. I also often skim the part where they talk about cricket’s technicality since it bores me. I think that’s fine as long as it doesn’t take me away from the focus of the book.
In the end, growing up and finding one’s identity is a process that no one can avoid. Some people might feel lost along the way, just like the Kumar brothers. But knowing that you’re not alone and believing that someday you’ll find who you are and what you want in life would help. Reading this book, I feel like I grow together with the boys. It’s a book that I’m glad I finally read. If you’re hesitant to pick Selection Day because of the cricket, don’t be. I recommend this book.

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