Review: “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga [2009]

‘ “You were looking for the key for years/But the door was always open!”‘ – p.253.

In a long letter to the Premiere of China, Wen Jiabao, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur from Bangalore, Balram Halwai, begins his letter upon hearing that the Premiere would like to meet some ‘real’ people in India during his visit. The letter/autobiography details Balram’s childhood in the backwater village of Laxmangarh where its residents lived in poverty and where their future seemed bleak at the very best. Balram’s father instills hope in him that things may change because he was the special son, the son that will finally break the cycle of poverty. Taken out of school soon after his father dies of Tuberculosis (five years of education was more than enough, according to his grandmother) and forced to work in a teashop, Balram finally gets his break when he takes driving lessons. He successfully gains employment as a driver/servant to one of Laxmangarh’s ruling family’s younger son who had just returned from New York and later moves to the bright lights of Delhi with them.

Adiga paints a stark picture of a modern day India filled with corruption, unbreakable cycles of poverty and the dissolvement of the hard won democracy that Gandhi and Nehru stood for. The police, public servants and politicians are all involved in bribery. Poor villages, such as Laxmangarh, and slums have their right to vote sold to politicians by the ruling landlords. Adiga also points his finger, curiously, at Indians like Ashok, the son who had returned from New York, who fly in and criticise the way of things, the corruption and poverty and yet who also cannot bear to give up their luxury lifestyle bought by bribes. The letter is written in the wee hours of the morning over seven nights, no doubt referring to the days it took for the Christian God to create the new world. In this case, it refers to how Balram eventually created his new world.

The writing is wonderful and lively and the story engrossing and stimulating. It’s an amazing achievement for a first time novelist but I cannot say if it is deserving as the winner of the Booker prize.

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6 comments

  1. I haven’t read this yet, although it is on my long-list of TBR books. I’m curious though: why do think it’s not deserving of the Booker Prize? Did you simply think that other books on the short list were better? If so, which ones?

    I’d heard it was funny, too. Did you find it very funny?

  2. J.S.Peyton – I loved the book but I thought, perhaps, that the book was a little too ‘contemporary’, if you know what I mean. That’s not to say that I’m disagreeing with the book winning the award but that if asked to defend it, I wouldn’t be able to. I haven’t read the other nominees (lost among the long, TBRs) so I can’t really compare it to the others. The book has some very funny moments but it’s mostly dark comedy. 🙂

  3. “…with corruption, unbreakable cycles of poverty”

    I find this book very funny, branded with a new voice that is beyond sarcastic. I wondered why it was addressed to the Communists? I see the very same problem that he addresses in the United States, except the US is more coy to cover its trail of corruption.

  4. I agree that the voice was very refreshing and makes reading about such hard and depressing conditions much more accessible. Perhaps the letter was addressed to the Communists because, theoretically, they have ‘eradicated’ the social hierarchy and are supposedly all on equal grounds. Just a thought…

    1. Hi Nishita, thanks for your comments. 🙂

      I liked and really enjoyed The White Tiger but … I still think there’s something missing in it. I might rethink that on another read.

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