Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review: The White Tiger

Much hyped, Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger was something I was waiting to read for a while now. While the book's recent short listing for the Man Booker prize came as a bit of a surprise to me, it is indeed engaging and insightful in many respects.
The book tells the tale of the rags to riches story of Balram Halwai, the son of a rickshaw puller from a remote village in India (which Adiga christen’s ‘The Darkness’) and his subsequent meteorical rise to dot com millionaire. Halwai’s path to riches is far from clean. There are compromises and unscrupulous deals along the way, and Halwai does not even mind spilling a little blood to get to where he wants to be. The book raises many issues… the inequality of incomes and lifestyles, religious tensions, the corruption in the system and the fact that success in today’s India can never be achieved with hard work and diligence alone. Adiga is clearly angry, and Halwai, narrating his story in letter format to China’s premier (no less!) becomes his mouthpiece. Life in rural India is described in all its blood, deprivation and stench. The anger is even more evident in Halwai’s narration of his ex-employers’ family’s treatment of him and other servants in the big bad city of Delhi. The chasm between rich and poor in India is highlighted as it should be. The funny thing is, even as you start to realize and know that Halwai is far from being the clean poster boy of small town success stories, and is in fact willing to go to any length to achieve his goals, you somehow still root for him. And that is the beauty of Adiga’s writing. It’s the angry young man/ anti-hero circa 2008. The narrative also alludes to popular real life issues that have occurred in India over the last few years, such as the BMW hit and run case, the many bribery cases in politics etc.
The book raises many uncomfortable questions about modern India, and does so unflinchingly, relentlessly and unapologetically.
I’ll be watching out for the follow-up.