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.