The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


While reading The White Tiger I found myself conflicted.  I was immensely entertained and hooked by the story and as a result was reading very quickly, but I suspected early on that I was supposed to be taking something else from this book.  Generally, an increased appreciation and understanding of Indian culture; its caste system, its recent business and entrepreneurial changes and the way in which the morality of its people differs from that of the West.  Indian culture is very different from our own, and because of the changes India is undergoing it can be easy (and wrong) to place Western expectations on its people.

The main character of the story, Balram Halwai, aka The White Tiger is a self-professed murderer.  And yet, it’s not difficult at all for a reader to find themselves rooting for him.  Born in poverty and with little means to change his lot, Balram nevertheless finds a way to be successful.  The book is Balram’s story, in his own words, of how he left The Darkness…the Rooster Coop (caste categorizations)…from which few men escape, and became a wealthy entrepreneur.

I enjoyed reading the author’s interview in the back of the book in which Adiga claimed that his only intention in writing the novel was to entertain, and his vehicle just happened to be the India that he knew, which was not such an alternative view, but really rather mainstream.  But I think that many will find the setting and characters unfamiliar and it will be difficult for some to read this book and then walk away from India after such a compelling presentation of it.  For someone with little exposure to the culture, it opens a door and creates more questions than it answers, especially since the novel is written with a certain amount of sarcasm and humor making it even more difficult to get a clear picture.  In fact, this is a very funny book…at least I think it is…it’s sort of painfully funny and I wasn’t always sure if something was being exaggerated for the sake of humor or just being depicted realistically, in which case I guess it wasn’t funny at all but really rather strange and frightening.

I’m not saying that I think it’ll be necessary after reading this novel for someone to run out and read a complete history on the Indian subcontinent, but a few suggestions were mentioned in the Reading Group Guide in the back of the book which may offer a broader perspective as well as a chance to compare and contrast the ways in which India is presented.  These include popular novels related to India such as The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and Brick Lane by Monica Ali as well as the nonfiction accounts In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce, Planet India by Mira Kamdar and The Elephant and the Dragon by Robyn Meredith.

Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 8:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. I actually had a hard time sinking into this book in the beginning. I would read several pages before bed and then when I picked up the book the next day I’d forget where I’d left off and what was happening in the story. But this passed. I started falling in rhythm with the narrator’s pattern of storytelling and reading became easier. Plus, the story is entertaining. I learned a lot about Indian culture, and have many questions about this culture that need answering. Books that make me think and look for answers even after I’m done reading it are a good find!

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