Ryan's Reviews > The White Tiger

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
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Nov 06, 2011

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bookshelves: fic-literary, fic-world
Read in August, 2009

***1/2

A witty if rather cynical novel, White Tiger tells a story of India through the eyes of Balram Halwai, an impoverished village boy from "the darkness" who manages, through a combination of subservience and cunning, to become a driver for a wealthy landlord, and finally, after a terrible act, a self-made entrepreneur. Balram serves as a sort of sardonic tour guide for the two halves of India that he sees; there are the poor: miserable, forever indentured to menial jobs, and finding initiative only to prevent other poor from rising above them; and there are the rich: corrupt, malicious (or, at best, weak-willed), unapologetically self-serving, and indifferent to the poor. I've noticed that more than a few Indian readers online have criticized the accuracy of Adiga's skewed depiction of the country, but, as an American, I found it an eye-opening read and perhaps not a bad starting point for literary excursions into India. Sometimes, the picture it paints is darkly funny. Sometimes, it's upsetting.

As a novel, White Tiger has a few flaws. Balram's description and wit often hit their targets, but he himself never becomes a very involving character. Mostly, he's just a passive observer until the plot requires him to do something significant. Even the crime he commits has a perfunctory, self-serving aspect that does little to make him a more likeable, interesting, or powerful character. (And why he chooses to tell his life story to the Chinese premier via email, I don't know, though it's an amusing device.)

Still, I got something from Adiga's scathing humor and his tragicomic portrayal of a life caught between poverty and wealth, and servitude and freedom. Being a short read/listen, White Tiger didn't overstay its welcome.
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