Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Title: The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga

First published : 22nd April 2008

Published by: Free Press

Genre: Literary Fiction

Format: Harback

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Goodreads Synopsis

Introducing a major literary talent, The White Tiger offers a story of coruscating wit, blistering suspense, and questionable morality, told by the most volatile, captivating, and utterly inimitable narrator that this millennium has yet seen.

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life—having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

Born in the dark heart of India, Balram gets a break when he is hired as a driver for his village’s wealthiest man, two house Pomeranians (Puddles and Cuddles), and the rich man’s (very unlucky) son. From behind the wheel of their Honda City car, Balram’s new world is a revelation. While his peers flip through the pages of Murder Weekly (“Love — Rape — Revenge!”), barter for girls, drink liquor (Thunderbolt), and perpetuate the Great Rooster Coop of Indian society, Balram watches his employers bribe foreign ministers for tax breaks, barter for girls, drink liquor (single-malt whiskey), and play their own role in the Rooster Coop. Balram learns how to siphon gas, deal with corrupt mechanics, and refill and resell Johnnie Walker Black Label bottles (all but one). He also finds a way out of the Coop that no one else inside it can perceive.

Balram’s eyes penetrate India as few outsiders can: the cockroaches and the call centers; the prostitutes and the worshippers; the ancient and Internet cultures; the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger. And with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn’t create virtue, and money doesn’t solve every problem — but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.

The White Tiger recalls The Death of Vishnu and Bangkok 8 in ambition, scope, and narrative genius, with a mischief and personality all its own. Amoral, irreverent, deeply endearing, and utterly contemporary, this novel is an international publishing sensation —and a startling, provocative debut.

My Thoughts

I heard about The White Tiger second hand as my partner’s colleague was telling him about it and he thought it would be a book I was interested in. I managed to find a hardback copy in Oxfam for 50p (crazy!) so put it on my list of 21 books for 2021 as the premise fascinated me.

Balram Halawi tells his origin story from the Darkness of India to start-up entrepreneur in Bangalore over the course of 7 nights in letters to the Chinese Premier who is due to visit India to find out more about entrepreneurship. Balram’s story is not a happy one of rags-to-riches, rather it is told in the most wonderful scathing tone which is highly critical of modern India. The characterisation of Balram is absolutely exquisite and one of the most distinctive narrators I’ve had the pleasure of reading lately. Balram’s unique voice carries the character-driven narrative perfectly.

The novel is full of synecdoche and metaphors for the current state of Indian society which is demarcated into The Darkness (rural, non-industrialised India) and the light of the industrialised cities to whom rich Western countries outsource their work. There are frequent spatial paradigms which reflect a stark contrast between these two entities which is reflected through religion, class (caste), language and social mobility. I thought the social commentary was brilliant.

So why only 4 star? As can be the case with books that I feel are more character driven, I felt sometimes that the plot was a little slow for my liking, but there was so much to appreciate and reflect upon. I feel like this book was definitely a worthy winner of The Manbooker Prize.

The White Tiger has now been adapted by Netflix so maybe I’ll have to go watch it next!

I’m really interested in reading more books set in India by Indian authors, so please let me know if you have any recommendations!

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

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