Archive for January 2nd, 2009

The White Tiger

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

By Aravind Adiga

The Short Take:

Smart, sassy, and savage — this novel is about as far removed from those semi-magical books I’ve come to expect from Indian-born authors as you can get.  No wonder it won the Man Booker Prize. This is a picture of modern India unlike any other.


This black comedy traces the evolution of one Indian man, Balram Halwai, from lowly, put-upon servant to daring entrepreneur. Along the way it paints an often chilling portrait of a country where old traditions and the modern world sometimes meld and oft times clash. 

Corruption, the self-centered rich, grasping families, and spirit-crushing subjugation are the pillars that support  Adiga’s book. But upon these seeming negatives he has built a crazy house of black humor where you find yourself cheering on a self-admitted murderer.  I would call Adiga a modern-day Jane Austin, only instead of poking fun at drawing room niceties and snobberies, Adiga takes on the all of India today. With wicked humor, he exposes absurdities, pain, and social insanity. 

The tiger in the title is meant to refer to the main character. I prefer to think of it as Adiga himself, as he slashes open the skin of India’s growing prosperity  to reveal all the roiling relationships beneath.

And, no, it’s not depressing. It’s invigorating as well as insightful. Grrr.

A Little Plot:

The life of Balram Halwai is revealed through a letter he is writing to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China. The premier is coming to Bangalore in order to learn more about Indian entrepreneurship. Halwai seeks to tell him the truth, as opposed to the official story.

A bright child born to a poor family with no prospects and no expectations of any, Halwai is expected to work as a virtual slave,live in squalor, and pass all earnings to the family matriarch. His family lives in “the Darkness” of rural India. Halwai wants more from life, and manages to become the driver for a rich family, eventually winding up in Dehli.

As he drives, cleans, and performs other duties; Halwai makes note of the differences between the thinking of masters and servants. When he is expected to willingly go to prison to cover up for a master’s crime, he realizes that he is caught in a “rooster coop” or his own creation and sets out to free himself.

That’s where the murder comes in, and Halwai’s entrepreneurial spirit takes over.


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