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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize

Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger: A Novel is many things. It is a fascinating look at modern India and how it is still stuck in a sort of feudalistic state combined with the very modern world of democracy, high technology and international influences. It is also the story of corruption and how one young man rose above the masses to become an entrepreneur by using that corrupt system for himself. It is the story of how a young man who has lost his moral compass can make it through tricks, hard work and murder. Most importantly, it is very, very readable - a well-written story that pulls the reader into its world.

 For many, this look at the third world - with its rampant corruption, absolute poverty and, sadly, a strong sentiment of "life is cheap" will come as a surprise. This is not the sanitized travelogue view of India. The characters are between cultures - they are old India and new India at the same time - and, maybe, because of that they are neither and maybe nothing at all.  It is also certainly not told from the perspective of those new members of the international economy that man the phone banks that deal with the complaints of American customers.

Aravind Adiga
Balram Halwai comes from a small rural town in India and he wants to be more than a rickshaw-puller like his father. His father was a good man but, ultimately, he died because he was too poor to stop working and too poor to get adequate medical care (or any at all thanks to corruption). A government official came to the local school and told Balram Halwai that he was the white tiger - the rarest of all creatures. In this case, he was referring to Balram Halwai's academic talents and he promised a scholarship for the boy - which promptly disappeared in the corruption of the education system. So, Balram Halwai becomes a chauffeur and eventually works for the wealthy family that practically owns and operates his tiny village like a medieval fiefdom.

Balram Halwai uses and manipulates the system and the people in it playing by no rules at all until he ends up wanted for murder and running his own company (all of that is revealed in the first chapter so I am not writing spoilers).

This is a harsh book. Balram Halwai is hardly a likable character and no one else is either. Everyone, including the family buffalo uses everyone around him and sucks them dry. But, this is an antidote for the reader that things that everyone lives in quaint suburban neighborhoods and drives their SUV to Super Target every weekend after soccer practice.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on June 16, 2011.

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