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The White Tiger: A Novel Paperback – October 14, 2008
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From Bookmarks Magazine
At the end of the novel, Balram predicts that "brown and yellow men [will be] at the top of the pyramid, and we'll rule the world." Certainly, The White Tiger is a parable of the "new India," a rapidly growing global powerhouse of middle-class call centers juxtaposed against crushing class conflict and corruption. In contrast with other Indian authors, Adiga does not sentimentalize such conflict; instead, like Richard Wright's Native Son, to which the novel was compared, he shows how savvy manipulators can rise above it. Most critics thought that Adiga brilliantly told this story with wit and pathos. A few, however, thought that he lectured in parts, caricatured extreme wealth and poverty, and missed an opportunity to say something meaningful about Balram's desperation instead of mocking upper-class life. Either way, Adiga is an author to watch.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
"Compelling, angry, and darkly humorous, The White Tiger is an unexpected journey into a new India. Aravind Adiga is a talent to watch." -- Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
"An exhilarating, side-splitting account of India today, as well as an eloquent howl at her many injustices. Adiga enters the literary scene resplendent in battle dress and ready to conquer. Let us bow to him." -- Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook
"The perfect antidote to lyrical India." - Publishers Weekly
"This fast-moving novel, set in India, is being sold as a corrective to the glib, dreamy exoticism Western readers often get...If these are the hands that built India, their grandkids really are going to kick America's ass...BUY IT." - New York Magazine
"Darkly comic...Balram's appealingly sardonic voice and acute observations of the social order are both winning and unsettling." - The New Yorker
"Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger is one of the most powerful books I've read in decades. No hyperbole. This debut novel from an Indian journalist living in Mumbai hit me like a kick to the head -- the same effect Richard Wright's Native Son and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man had. - USA Today
"Extraordinary and brilliant... At first, this novel seems like a straightforward pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps tale, albeit given a dazzling twist by the narrator's sharp and satirical eye for the realities of life for India's poor... But as the narrative draws the reader further in, and darkens, it becomes clear that Adiga is playing a bigger game... Adiga is a real writer - that is to say, someone who forges an original voice and vision. There is the voice of Halwai - witty, pithy, ultimately psychopathic... Remarkable... I will not spoil the effect of this remarkable novel by giving away ... what form his act of blood-stained entrepreneurship takes. Suffice to say that I was reminded of a book that is totally different in tone and style, Richard Wright's Native Son, a tale of the murderous career of a black kid from the Chicago ghetto that awakened 1940s America to the reality of the racial divide. Whether The White Tiger will do the equivalent for today's India - we shall see." - Adam Lively, The Sunday Times (London)
"Fierce and funny...A satire as sharp as it gets." - Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
"There is a new Muse stalking global narrative: brown, angry, hilarious, half-educated, rustic-urban, iconoclastic, paan-spitting, word-smithing--and in the case of Aravind Adiga she hails from a town called Laxmangarh. This is the authentic voice of the Third World, like you've never heard it before. Adiga is a global Gorky, a modern Kipling who grew up, and grew up mad. The future of the novel lies here." - John Burdett, author of Bangkok 8
"Adiga's training as a journalist lends the immediacy of breaking news to his writing, but it is his richly detailed storytelling that will captivate his audience...The White Tiger echoes masterpieces of resistance and oppression (both The Jungle and Native Son come to mind) [and] contains passages of startling beauty...A book that carefully balances fable and pure observation." - Lee Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle
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It's obvious why Adiga won The Mann Booker Prize. The writing is precise and crisp, and the structure is unique – writing to the Premier of China. I have read quite a number of books about India, and visited there a few years ago. It is every bit as he describes it. It is easy to get swept away into the old forts, palaces and ruins. But wider ruin that has been caused in India by corruption, out-of-control growth, and poverty, is endemic. William Dalrymple's book, The Age of Kali, written ten years prior to White Tiger, points to what has happened in cities such as Bangalore, which were known as park, tree and monument-filled cities. Those are all gone in the incessant, unplanned growth. And corruption supports it all.
Adiga posits that the caste system has collapsed into two castes: Big Bellies and near starvation. The picture of venality painted by Adiga supports Dalrymple's contentions.
It is an ugly, sad novel that I fear is largely true.
Aravind Adiga does an exceptional, and often funny, job of weaving many of India’s problems into his tale: large scale poverty, rampant corruption, class inequality, inadequate education. He creates a poor but smart, hard-working protagonist you want to like and root for, but who is also a smug, amoral murderer. Balram seems so pleasant that I kept reading to find out what drove this seemingly docile man to murder. The implications of Balram as a symbol of lower class Indians (polite and eager to please while seething underneath), are plenty uncomfortable. Adiga never gets preachy or long-winded. Much like Mohsin Hamid’s 2014 novel, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,” “The White Tiger” entertains and disturbs all at once.
New Delhi fundamentally changes both that son, Ashok, and Balram. Ashok has been educated in America, and treats his servants more or less like people. As he gets more and more sucked into the mire of his family's business (they're in the coal industry, and Ashok does a lot of running around with briefcases full of money to drop off with various politicians and officials), he becomes harder and harsher. When Balram is nearly forced to take the fall for a bad accident caused by Ashok's wife's drunk driving, Balram realizes that even as far as he's come from his roots, he's still not really safe. As long as he's poor and a servant, he'll always be expendable. But in order to get out of his situation, he needs money, and the money he has the easiest access to? Those briefcases that he's driving Ashok around with.
It's a dark satire, and after reading a lot of Serious Literature, I appreciated its wit and liveliness even more than I otherwise might have. But I would have enjoyed it no matter what. It's an epistolary novel (Balram writes to the prime minister of China, who is visiting India at the time, to explain India's entrepreneurial spirit), which allows it to skip around in time a little for maximum impact...we know that he's committed murder and gone on to start his own business, but how (and why) did he do it? How did he get away with it? What exactly does he do now? The organic tension propels the book forward without being too mysterious. Balram is an indelible character, and I really appreciated the way that Adiga developed Ashok as well, portraying his moral decay even though we only see him through Balram's eyes. It's a quick read that manages to be thought-provoking while still being entertaining.
The driver tells the story of his rise from a humble servant to the high life of a rich entrepreneur with no holds barred. All the hardships of his life as a driver and the riches of his life as a wealthy entrepreneur are told with honesty and clarity. In the doing, he shares a unique view of India.