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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
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Apr 06, 2009

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Read in April, 2009

Aravind Adiga claims Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man as the forebear of his Booker Prize Winning novel The White Tiger. I wish I could speak to that relationship (I really must get around to reading Ellison), but there was another relationship I found that was important to me: Balram Halwai (aka "The White Tiger," aka "Munna," aka "Country-Mouse," aka Ashok Sharma) and Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov.

Balram is a sort of anti-Raskolnikov.

Their story is much the same but there is one key difference: Balram doesn't let "foolish" guilt overwhelm him. The fiery Indian man has a strength of spirit that the paranoid Russian lacks, and it makes him likable in spite of his actions.

But then, Raskolnikov's weakness always made me cringe. His act of murder was nasty, yes, but it wasn't without justification, and once he committed the murder I wanted him to live up to the ideals he used to justify his act. He failed himself and paid the price, and he disappointed me in the bargain.

Balram doesn't fall prey to the same weakness (although it is interesting to note that the novel is epistolary, unfolding in a series of letters over seven nights, so perhaps there is an underlying weakness that still catches him out beyond the confines of the novel), and he uses the murder and the money he steals to better his life and finally feel like "a man" in a world where caste enslaves more than half of its starving population.

If Raskolnikov's crimes were somewhat justified, Balram's are much more so, but they also have greater consequences. Balram's crimes bleed into areas that Raskolnikov's don't. Balram's attack with the jagged neck of a Johnny Walker Black bottle doesn't just kill his "master," it effectively kills his entire family.

The wonder of Adiga's book, however, is that it leaves us, or at least it left me, entirely okay with Balram's actions.

The man did what he had to do. He did what the rich do everyday. And he became one of them. He rose up. He made it.

And that's the American Dream isn't it? The American dream in Bangalor. Praise be to free enterprise.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Whitaker Brad wrote:"The man did what he had to do. He did what the rich do everyday. And he became one of them. He rose up. He made it. And that's the American Dream isn't it? The American dream in Bangalor. Praise be to free enterprise."

I can't quite decide if this is meant ironically or sincerely.


message 2: by Kp (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kp Good review! I love the comparison to Raskolnikov - or anti-Raskolnikov!


Brad Thanks, Kp. I was thinking of White Tiger again just last night because I watched Slumdog Millionaire for the first time. My mind couldn't help comparing the two works (seeing as they're linked thematically), and I come down in favour of White Tiger. Slumdog Millionaire seemed to take the easy route to likability, but I think White Tiger is more challenging, and so far it is sticking with me a lot more than I imagine Slumdog will.

Have you decided which I meant yet, Whitaker? ;)


message 4: by Kp (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kp Another good comparison. I think the "easy route" to likability in SlumDog is the fact that the reader doesn't have to struggle with the dichotomy of really LIKING the main character, but hating the idea of cold blooded murder. In Slumdog, the main character always does "the right thing."

For Whitaker: I think you meant it sincerely but in an ironic sense (or perhaps a derogatory sense!)


Whitaker Chortle!


Jula Silber absolutely agree..


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