Friday, January 9, 2009
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Can a murderer be sympathetic and yes, even charming? As strange as that proposition seems, Aravind Adiga has created such an individual in The White Tiger. This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, and it is one of the more interesting books I've read lately.
The book follows the life of Balram Halwai, a man born into poverty in India. His father was a rickshaw operator, and died early of TB. Balram's life was dire as every day was a struggle to survive for his family. In fact, Balram didn't even get a name; he was named by the schoolmaster when he started school. In India, the family and ritualistic culture forms a straightjacket under which individuals are given a place in society and all behavior is defined and proscribed well in advance.
Balram wants something different. He is very bright, and a schoolteacher identifies him early on as a "white tiger", a rare animal that comes along only once in a generation. But his education is cut short when a cousin must be provided a dowry, and he is taken from school to work a menial job.
Things change for Balram when he is taken by the village's richest man to the city to serve as a driver for the man and his American wife. Balram thinks things will be different, but the life of a servant in India is one of total servitude. He is at the beck and call of his masters at all times, is paid very little, and is demeaned daily. The book portrays the life of the millions of Indians for whom life is short, brutal and mired in poverty, and the corruption that underlies every facet of civilization. Yet Balram takes matters into his own hands, and carves out a new life.
I really enjoyed this book. Despite the subject matter, it is not depressing to read. Balram is a very sympathic character, and the reader is led step by step into actions that seem justifiable, even when they result in murder, and leads to thoughts about morality, how to handle poverty and other questions about what is justifiable. The book shows an underside to Indian society that is rarely shown. India and China are the new giants of the century, and I've been reading a lot of books about both societies. The language in the book is breezy, and it flows steadily for a quick read. This book is highly recommended for all readers.