White Tiger – by Aravind Adiga

Posted: February 9, 2009 in Book Review

Call me shallow or impatient or one who can’t appreciate quality books or whatever, but I have NEVER finished a book that won the Booker or even was nominated for it. Notable examples include Midnight’s Children, Cloud Atlas, Sea of Poppies among others. More than anything, it is the writing style that puts me off. I can never get the feel of those books and those books are never easy reading (for me atleast). So it was great hesitation and trepidation, that I took on the task of reading The White Tiger. One reason why I was willing to take on, was the size (or lack of it) of the book. It was barely 300 pages and that was a reading risk I was willing to take. The fact that the book has been as appreciated(outside India) and slandered (by Indians, within India) as Slumdog Millionaire made it an intriguing prospect

Three hours later, as I finish the book, I wonder what the fuss was all about (as I did with Slumdog Millionaire). It is by no means a brilliant book (though it was a nice easy read, surprising for a Booker novel in my opinion) What “The White Tiger” is, its a good book. It is the story of Balram Halwai, born in the “Darkness” of rural India, his struggles in life from education to working in a tea shop to a driver in Delhi to a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. The story is of his struggles to be successful while at the same time, a commentary on India’s upper class, their habits as well as the working of the political system in India with its linkages to business. What is enthralling in the book is Balram’s perspective of things, his need to be different, his frequent internal rebellion against the upper class while he smothers it by justifying things to himself and finally, the only way as he sees to survive and be successful. As the author himself mentions in the India, most of the story is fiction with a few real facts highlighted. In that context, it is surprising to encounter such vitriol about the book saying the author has no idea about India and has depicted India badly.

There are a few similarities to Slumdog Millionaire. Both are stories of underdog. Both have been praised heavily by foreign audiences. Both have been castigated by the Indians. Both depict the side of India that is never addressed. Both penned by Indians. Both hyped beyond belief while the truth is neither justifies the hype.

Rating: 7/10

  1. Sriram says:

    What ppl fuss about isn’t about the contents or the literary value of the book. Its much more than that. Given the fact that western stereotypes about India are reinforced when such works alone are recognized at such famous stages, one would have to question the motives. As you yourself know, there have been umpteen works, be it movies, books or pictures which depict India in better light. They too are the ‘real India’. “Real India” is not just cast oppression, poverty and utter hopelessness. Such works rarely get hyped so much and for a person half-way across the world to whom such work is possibly the first or maybe the 2nd impression about the country, is that what you’d want to portray as the ‘real’ india. However much it is real, its still not the entire truth and therefore you end up portraying a half-truth which ends up playing a negative role. kapisce?

  2. vinayvasan says:

    I do agree with your point that what is depicted is the half truth and the usual stereo-typing (if it can be called that) of Indians. However, who is to be blamed for the recognition of the work? The author or the people who decide that this is an astounding piece of literature? In my view, the author has taken liberties in his portrayal of the Indian hopelessness, the miseries of a life born in servitude and the route to success and the justification for that method. But that does not imply that the book be recognized and promoted and awarded. The fundamental question here is why is it that only books/movies that depict India’s darker and seamy side are recognized. I do not blame the author here. May be he really has seen the rural Bharat or he is trying to ensure that a story comes out where there is none. Is that any different from some of our movies in which the uber rich travel in choppers within India or try to orchestrate random acts of violence to justify their own needs.
    I guess the primary grouse here is that the novel has got international acclaim and recognition which other works have not. So whose fault is it? The authors or the adjudicators? Basically, to add a very abstract angle to this, the question is who watches the watchmen or in light of Sathyam, we can ask who audits the auditors

  3. Bihag Bhatt says:

    I have a feeling Booker prize is given on the consideration “How much can you bi*ch about your own country”. And I am not at all trying to diminish the literary beauty that this book is. Same is true for Oscars. If you make a movie on Holocaust, you are bound to get some awards.

    I have read 2 Booker winners – God of small things and the white tiger. Both the book focus on depicting how cruel a third world country is on its people. Which is the view outsiders think is the right one – after all that is white man’s burden. Their own need to feel better than other countries.

    Contrary to you, I love the writing style of both the books. They almost make you feel the pain, take in delirium of the characters of the book and fill you with their rebellion and rage.

    But at the end of the day, that is still half depiction of the reality.

    I was by chance sitting in a Book launch of a book called “In the name of Rama”. It again paints India in bad light and suggests that the whole country is run by will of majority. And during the launch, so-called intellectuals went on trip talking about how “those” Indians harass, kill and oppress “these” poor people. A German lady sitting pretty in the audience observed “Maybe all this violence has something to do with the genes of South Asians. South Asians are violent by nature.” I wasn’t as good a host as I should have been. I had to remind her of 6 million deadbodies from those gas chambers.

  4. Sriram says:

    A better read about a storyline that uses poverty etc would be sea of poppies.. if you’ve read that write a review 🙂 or read it if you haven’t.. much much better than white tiger imo

  5. vinayvasan says:

    Been there, tried that and gave up after 50 pages… :).. Sea of Poppies was not an easy read.. I tried twice and gave up.. May be I shall pick it up one day when I am in the mood.. My prime criteria for a book is that it should be an easy read.. (You should have guessed, I am damn lazy) 😛

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