28 January 2009

Review: THE WHITE TIGER, Aravind Adiga

Atlantic Books, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84354-721-1, 321 pages

The White Tiger, an Indian entrepreneur living in Bangalore, has heard an announcement on All India Radio that the Chinese Premier Jiabao is about to visit Bangalore. The announcer also said that Mr Jiabao wanted to know the truth about Bangalore, to meet some Indian entrepreneurs, and to hear the story of their success from their own lips. Concerned that the official story given to the Premier will be nothing like the truth, the White Tiger begins to write a series of emails to Jiabao.

Balram Halwai is The White Tiger. Until he went to school, he didn't really have a name. His father, Vikram Halwai, a rickshaw puller, called his son Munna, the Hindi word for boy. It was the school teacher who named him Balram when he enrolled him at school. Similarly his date of birth had never been recorded. It was eventually given to him when he was enrolled to vote during a scam by a village politician to get as many 18 year olds on the roll as possible. Despite being identified as an intelligent child and singled out for special treatment by a school inspector, Munna's schooling is cut short when his family sells him to become a tea shop spider.

Munna writes nightly to Premier Jiabao, telling him the story of his life: how he, a half-baked man, has become an entrepreneur who employs more than a dozen men. The letters describe for the reader an India that we can barely imagine, where corruption is rife, a nation of entrepreneurs, particularly in the field of technology, although things regarded as the essentials of life like clean drinking water, electricity, and adequate sewage simply don't exist.

THE WHITE TIGER is not really crime fiction, although I counted 20 murders. But the murders are not the focal point of this book. It is the social and economic circumstances revealed in Munna's letters. It lays bare an India that is failing it's citizens, where landlords and socialists alike bribe officials, and human life is regarded cheaply. The winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, it is an eminently readable book.

My rating 4.5

Aravind Adiga was born in Madras in 1974, and has subsequently lived in India, Australia, the US and the UK. He currently lives in Mumbai. THE WHITE TIGER is his debut novel.

Another review on Reactions to Reading: Bernadette listened to it.


Bernadette in Australia said...

Glad you liked it too Kerrie. I heard some talk of them making it into a movie but I hope they don't - I have such wonderful images in my head of Balram and the brothers I don't want that imagery spoiled.

Marg said...

I want to read this one!

Sandra said...

I'm glad you reviewed this. I loved it too and thought it deserved the Booker Prize. I think this would make a great film myself.

Kerrie said...

Yes, I think it would make a good film too Sandra

beastmomma said...

Thanks for sharing your review with me and taking the time to read and comment on mine. You enjoyed the book more than I did, but I am glad that I read it.

Literary Kitty said...

I really liked White Tiger. A lot of people said that it wasn't clever enough for the Booker Prize but I don't subscribe to that at all!

Dosti SMS said...

Although the book is quite famous the plot isn't that great. It's just about a driver who murders his master and becomes a entrepreneur. There is nothing more than that.

Moreover the tone is mostly castigating Indian society and system and exaggerating every small flaw in Indian system out of proportion like it is happening all the time with every person


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