Friday, July 10, 2009

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (a review)

The White Tiger: A Novel
4 out of 5: This novel masquerades as a series of letters written by an Indian man, Balram Halwai, to the Premier of China explaining what it is to be an “entrepreneur.” For Balram, the term “entrepreneur” is a euphemism for someone who has managed to rise above his caste, or social class, using whatever means required. In his persistent climb to the top, Balram takes advantage of the fluidity of identity offered by an unstable society in a state of transition. He assumes whatever position and character is most useful as he transforms himself from an uneducated village boy into a successful businessman in Bangalore.

Despite his upbeat entrepreneurial message, Balram’s narrative is filled with evidence of deep fissures in Indian society: between the high castes and the low castes, between those living in the Darkness (the rural, poor areas) and those living in the Light (the big cities), and between the rich masters and their poor servants. For Balram, these divisions reside within the body and are a kind of physical (and thus inescapable) marker:

A rich man's body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank. Ours are different. My father's spine was a knotted rope, the kind that women use in villages to pull water from wells; the clavicle curved around his neck in high relief, like a dog's collar …. The story of a poor man's life is written on his body, in a sharp pen.
Balram’s letters are darkly humorous and written with a savage directness in consonance with the violence and immorality underlying his success. The epistolary format feels like a clumsy literary device rather than a natural platform for Balram’s story, but his story is engaging enough to overcome its inelegant construction. Overall, The White Tiger is an interesting glimpse into a complicated society in transition.

8 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Sorry to see the epistolary format doesn't work well with this book. I'd still like to read it, though.

Sandra said...

I enjoyed this book and gave it four stars our of five too. Adiga's new book, Between the Assassinations, is just out and I'm hoping that it's also good.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Beautifully written review, as always!

Brittany said...

I had a really hard time with this book at first and abandoned it after about 30 pages. But in the meantime, several people had commented on my facebook wall about how much they enjoyed it - including a law school professor whom I really respected. So I gave it a second shot and it has ended up being one of my favorite reads so far this year!

Zibilee said...

I got this one for Christmas, but haven't yet managed the time to read it. I love Indian fiction, so I am pretty excited about reading it. I will let you know what I thought of it when I finish.

Hena said...

I've heard mixed opinions about this book, and at first wasn't interested in another tale about poverty in India, but now I'm going to read it and let you know what I think on my blog:
http://www.henasgoodbooks.com

Anonymous said...

I finally read this book and found myself laughing aloud during dark, deeply emotional moments...a hard trick to master. Amy H

Dosti SMS said...

This not just a novel but a societal based study of India.The Author in a very sarcastic way, hammers and explains castism, bureaucratic system, class struggle, sanitation,poverty, politics , fraternity among the INFLUENTIALS, etc in India. This book may seem ordinary to people from small towns or villages ( as these incidents are part of the their "NORMAL" life ) but may surprise the urban people.