Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 8, 2009

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

white-tigerThe White Tiger won the Booker in 2008 and there are numerous reviews about it so there is not much point in rehashing what has already been said. A brief summary of my impressions should suffice…

A white tiger is very rare, and that is why the narrator of this romp across the Great Economic Miracle of modern India calls himself that. He’s not a narrator to be trusted, but if the central theme of this tale is true, then he is indeed rare – because he has been able to transcend his predestined lowly status. Born into a poor family, he is denied an education and becomes a driver for a wealthy businessman in Delhi. Eventually he decides that he has had enough of being exploited so he murders his employer and uses bribe money to set himself up in business. The story closes with him making a success of his life in Bangalore, but even though he doesn’t care much for his family back in the village, he is burdened by anxiety about the revenge that will be exacted on them by the relations of his victim.

Summarised crudely like that, it seems not much of a story but it’s most enjoyable to read. Reminiscent of Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre (without the bad language) it traverses some of the same ground: satirising greed, rampant consumerism, venality, corruption, stupidity, racism, religious bigotry and breathtaking selfishness. It cleaves India in two: the Darkness and the Light, showing how the rich in the Light depend on and mercilessly exploit the poor who are forever trapped in the Darkness of intergenerational poverty and despair. India’s economic miracle is symbolized by glass shop fronts, apartment blocks, idleness and expanding waistlines, but it is not available for everybody. The only way in, it seems, is through crime.

Indians apparently don’t like the book, probably for the same reasons that Americans apparently don’t like Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre – only the Brits seem able to handle excoriating critiques about themselves with equanimity. I found it interesting and entertaining, but like most Booker winners it’s unlikely to become a well-loved classic (though Remains of the Day by Kasuo Ishiguro is an exception, as is The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell).


Responses

  1. I’ll be reading this one soon myself, so I enjoyed reading this as a “preview of coming attractions”!

  2. Aha, I decided to go looking to see if you’d done it and of course you had! I tend to not read reviews of books I haven’t read – rarely even read newspaper reviews – so hadn’t noted or recollected that you’d done it. Vernon God Little is an interesting comparison. The 21st Century Group you may have noticed referred to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is another interesting way of looking at it. I’m interested in your comment that Balram is not to be trusted. I grappled with this issue and didn’t in the end get to raise it in my group’s discussion. I’m really not sure what I think on this one. Anyhow, I enjoyed your commentary too – so many different ways to think about a book eh?

  3. Ah, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I think I should revisit that!

  4. […] the Assassinations, by Aravind Adiga I really liked The White Tiger, but I’m a bit disappointed in this, a collection of short stories – written before […]

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