Friday, June 29, 2012

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

No saris. No scents. No spices. No music. No lyricism. No illusions.This is India now.Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life-having nothing but his own wits to help him along. Born in a village in the dark heart of India, Balram gets a break when he is hired as a driver for a wealthy man, two Pomeranians (Puddles and Cuddles), and the rich man's (very unlucky) son.Through Balram's eyes, we see India as we've never seen it before: the cockroaches and the call centers, the prostitutes and the worshippers, the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger. And with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, he teaches us that religion doesn't create morality and money doesn't solve every problem-but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.


  1. Not sure what this means that the last four books have involved animals (two dogs, an owl, and now a tiger).

  2. Ah, a happy ending, but one that makes you feel a little muddied in the process...

    I enjoyed this book as it conveyed a side of India that is often hinted at, but normally stylized or turned into fairy tale. An exception, Slumdog Millionaire (directed by Danny Boyle, responsible for the Olympics opening ceremony), happened to come out the same year as this book, so brilliant minds were thinking alike.

    The book evoked pity in me for the way in which people’s lives were severely limited by the many influences on their lives, including their family, culture, poor education and corruption. But it seemed Balram and Mr Ashok both dealt with nearly the same restrictions, just from their respective poor and rich perspectives. Balram used the chicken coop as a metaphor for the cages that the poor are kept in, and made a point to show how he had broken out of it. Still, I could see that in many ways one never really breaks out of the coop, but just trades one coop (servant classes keeping fellow servants from thinking too big) for another (the constant threat of exposure, needing to pay bribes).

    I was not overly happy Mr Ashok was the one to be killed in order for Balram to break free, and liked that Balram regretted not killing the Mongoose instead. But Mr Ashok’s character showed that being only partially well-meaning from a comfortable position of affluence is sometimes less respected than being a complete ass. You really can’t win either way.

    The cover of the UK version says this book won the Man Booker prize in 2008, which is a newsworthy prize given every year for the best new fiction novel written by a citizen of the UK, Commonwealth, or Ireland. Reading the MBP 'long list' of finalists is a task many undertake here every year. (I have too many older things I want to read, though.)