This book carries its reader into the world of lower class India, the lowest of the low, through the eyes and actions of Balram Halwai. Balram, servanThis book carries its reader into the world of lower class India, the lowest of the low, through the eyes and actions of Balram Halwai. Balram, servant/chauffeur to a wealthy businessman, tells his story in a series of letters. Throughout he makes comparisons between the affluent and misfortunate classes of society, while elaborating on the desire to climb out of “the darkness” (slums) and become a rich entrepreneur. The letters are addressed to a Chinese Premier who is going to be visiting Bangalore. It is obvious he admires China's industrialized success when he asks the Premier how to beat poverty and corruption. Maybe his admiration of the Premier played into the reason for his confession and need to unload his conscience.
Balram is caught in a trap where he can never earn enough to run his own chauffeur company and will always be a subservient driver for the rich. I think he compares himself to a “white tiger” because they are so rare and despite of the rat race and societal caste he and his peers belong to, he knows he will rise above his raising … so to speak. He contemplates the violence he must resort to in order break free of his confining life. Balram's story is to explain his motive while justifying the deadly deed of killing his master and stealing money he needs to begin a new life.
When Balram's mistress insists on driving after a night on the town and his master indulges her against Balram's better judgment (which he knows he cannot voice). I was reminded of the hit and run scene in The Great Gatsby. Knowing he would take the blame if the boy was discovered dead, and seeing how light-minded his master was about the victim's fate was probably the turning point in Balram's mind, turning the idea of murderous fantasy into reality. Critics have also compared The White Tiger to Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment as well as Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.
When considering the Invisible Man comparison I remember how Balram described Indians as being honest … that everyday servants were trusted with large sums of money, or to care for children of their masters. Yet those who had power were so corrupt and full of greed. Two extremes and the question of why so honest … possibly survival instincts fueled by fear as with the protagonist in Ellison's novel. And like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, Balram remains haunted by his own transgression....more
A hedgehog's spiked coat can fool one into believing they are rough creatures. Actually they have a tender personality sort of like humans. Like peoplA hedgehog's spiked coat can fool one into believing they are rough creatures. Actually they have a tender personality sort of like humans. Like people, hedgehogs have good days and bad days.
Rene Mitchell is a 54 year old concierge at a Paris apartment building. The tenants recognize what she does for them, but not who she is. In her private life, she is a voracious reader and lover of art. Her cat is named Leo, after Tolstoy, and she obsesses over anything Japanese. She sarcastically observes the people she works for, baffled by their narrow minds and lavish lifestyles. She begins to notice one young girl, Paloma, who like herself remains inconspicuous to others.
Paloma is a genius and she has begun to believe that there is no reason to grow up if life is nothing more than what her parents and other adults in her social class make of it. Who needs deadlines and stress ...why should you be in a hurry to go no where? She has decided that she will kill herself on her 13th birthday and plans to burn down the apartment as well. Until her birthday she is keeping a journal where she records profound thoughts... just in case she realizes that there is a reason to live.
Although Renee is compared to a hedgehog, the description relates to Paloma as well. Both characters display figurative quills … personality barriers, but when self-reflecting they express themselves with philosophical elegance.
As the two unlikely acquaintances become friends, and a new tenant Monsieur Ozu takes an interest in Renee, the story develops with more positive observations. This proves to Paloma that there are reasons to value life and all that comes with it.
Barbery, a professor of philosophy, incorporates her discipline well. Paloma's profound thoughts and the cynicism of Renee made processing the story a struggle at times. I did like how I was forced to analyze and think though some of the ideas presented, but I also found it difficult to fully relax while reading this novel.
In the end … tragedy occurs and Paloma states: “I have finally concluded, maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that's it, an always within never.”