Balram Halwai, is an Indian servant from the ‘Darkness’—poor countryside India—who has escaped his destiny of being a sweet-seller. Balram is more than just a servant; a philosopher, entrepreneur and murderer he calls himself the ‘White Tiger’.
Adiga takes the reader on a journey through the twists and turns of Balram’s life and, with expert satirical commentary, points out the harsh realities of life in India. Portrayed through an intriguing narrative of letters directed at the Premier of China, which are never sent, this novel is engaging, the writing clipped and direct, and trots along at a jaunty pace. I found this an engrossing tale with intricate attention to detail that created vivid images of the characters, culture and country.
An example of the voice and writing style is:
‘Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewerage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them.’ (p. 4)
The plot has unexpected deviations. It exposes the weaknesses of human nature, and our innate desire to survive, all of which are revealed through the central characters. While Balram commits many sins along his path to freedom—culminating in murder—I felt such affinity for him that the urge to see him punished was replaced by the desire for him to succeed in hauling himself out of soul-destroying poverty.
Adiga’s writing is descriptive and it was with ease that I was able visualise the slums of India in certain passages and people in rich opulent surroundings in others. This novel doesn’t gloss over the poverty in India, and it was received with quite some controversy when first released. The White Tiger portrays a society wracked by corruption, ruled by a caste system, and highlights the levels of poverty experienced by a great proportion of the people.
This is a novel well worth reading. The White Tiger is Adiga’s debut novel and won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the same year that it was published.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Atlantic Books 2008)