Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: The White Tiger

As a book lover, I hate being forced to read things. So with a large degree of trepidation, and the need for five more credits to round out my quarter, I signed up for a Post Colonial Literature course, knowing it would most certainly make me do that most dreaded of all dreadfuls: read something because I HAVE to. Luckily, the book list is nice and short, and filled with some cool novels. The White Tiger is one of 'em.

In this debut, Booker Prize winning novel by Aravind Adiga, we follow Balram Halwai, a low caste villager trying to make it big in India. Balram is from a tiny village called Laxmangarh, a village deep in the "darkness" of rural India. As a child, Balram was declared a "White Tiger", a once in a lifetime genetic specialty that is destined for great things, by a visiting education inspector.

The novel is told in a series of letters which Balram writes to the Premier of China. The letters, written over a course of seven days and seven nights tell of Balram's journey from a lowly sweet maker, to the slightly more lofty, and better paying job of professional driver for rich young Indian aristocrat.

The White Tiger is a transfixing novel. The letter to the Premier narrative style is a pretty unique one, and it made the story roll along at a great clip. Reading the letters, Balram comes off as a slightly neurotic guy, but he is definitely a guy you root for regardless of his sarcastic demeanor, loose morals and crafty ways.

Balram suffers many degrading and unjust moments in the service of his employers, from foot massages, to being framed for vehicular homicide; all of which serves to illustrate the brutal class struggles that still exist, and persist in India today. This book doesn't just explore the issues of class. Through the eyes of Balram, we also get a look at the rapid globalization of India, the tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and the continued struggle for national identity in the wake of Britian's colonial "enlightenment".

The theme of Light versus Darkness was a theme kept popping up often in this book. The villagers are often described as being from the "Darkness", Balram makes a reference to hiding from the police, who searched for him in the darkness while he hid in the light, and many others which struck me as Adiga's way of addressing the "white man's burden" goal of enlightenment that served as one of the key justifications for colonialism. Make no mistake, while this book has a darkly comic veneer, it is very much an angry shout at the colonial powers and the greed, corruption, class discrimination, and racism that effect modern India.

The White Tiger was a nice surprise. The book tackles some very interesting and complex issues, and gave me lots to think about. Overall, the book is a fast, more or less easy read, but it is filled with some heavy material, that Adiga somehow, masterfully, managed to not bog the narrative down with. This is a great read, and well deserving of the Booker Prize it won in 2008. This is a powerful book that is accessible to everyone, an amazing achievement for any book. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+


mummazappa said...

I've seen this around a lot but this is the first review I've read. Sounds like it's definitely one for the TBR list.

Ryan said...

Yeah, it is definitely worth a read. Not only is it a great book, but it was a nice change of pace for me too.