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The White Tiger

The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga
276 pages

See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo. A clean, well kept, orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy. ... And then, thanks to all those politicians in Delhi, on the fifteenth of August, 1947 -- the day the British left -- the cages had been left open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law. Those that were the most ferocious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else up, and grown big bellies. (p. 53-54)

Balram Halwai lives in "the jungle" that is 21st century India. The book is organized as a lengthy letter from Balram to China's Premier, shortly before the Premier's visit to Bangalore. In the letter, written over several days, Balram describes how he left his rural village to work as a driver for the son of the village's wealthiest man. He landed this position completely by luck, and used it to rise up in Indian servant society, and eventually become an entrepreneur.

But this is no rags-to-riches story. It is instead a sometimes humorous, sometimes scathing account of contemporary Indian society. Adiga vividly describes the stark contrasts between "haves" and "have nots," and is resigned to this remaining as status quo for years to come:
An Indian revolution? No, sir. It won't happen. People in this country are still waiting for the war of their freedom to come from somewhere else -- from the jungles, from the mountains, from China, from Pakistan. That will never happen. (p. 261)

The White Tiger explores many of the same themes as A Fine Balance, but I found the latter better-written and far more moving. This was an OK read, but disappointing compared to other Booker Prize winners. ( )


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 1st, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
White Tiger
I found this to be very average too. I agree it is probably one of the worst Booker winners I've read, although I've just finished Offshore and that was a lot worse than this!

Apr. 1st, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
Re: White Tiger
Oh dear, that's the second negative comment on Offshore that I've heard in a week ... and I'm planning to get to it sometime this year. Sigh.
Apr. 1st, 2009 09:57 pm (UTC)
I had a feeling this one would not resonate with you, Laura. I rated it a little higher because I found it pretty entertaining and unique. But I agree, one expects more of a Booker winner.
Apr. 2nd, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Well it was unique ... but I think I've had "enough" India recently, having read A Fine Balance and seen the film Slumdog Millionaire. So, too much of a good thing perhaps ...
Apr. 4th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)
I do hope to read this one eventually, but I'm in no hurry at this point. I've read mixed reviews of it overall. It does sound interesting, especially the way you described it as being written. It's too bad it fell flat, however.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )