Kinga's Reviews > The White Tiger

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
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really liked it

There was a time when I stopped reading Indian novels. I just couldn’t read another sari&curry story about women and all their problems. All these books started to blend in my head into one behemoth of a novel.
So when I read on the back of ‘White Tiger’ that ‘unlike almost another Indian novel you might have read in recent years, this page-turner offers a completely bald, angry, unadorned portrait of the country as seen from the bottom of the heap; there’s not a sniff a saffron or a swirl of sari anywhere…” it piqued my interest.

And it pretty much does what it says on the cover. It’s a very unapologetic, rough kind of rags-to-riches story. It explores the very complicated relationship between the servant and his master. It’s one of those books in which the narrator starts off with saying “I killed a man. Now, here let me tell you why,” and the novel doesn’t suffer from this apparent spoiler.

It’s a very sad story filled with corruption, crime and a general sense of pointlessness, where morality seem a luxury almost no one can afford, told by the addictive voice of the narrator. For an interesting twist on your traditional Indian tale Adiga offers the narrator’s view on male oppression in the country. Balram, the main character, is constantly harassed by his grandmother and aunts.

“I couldn’t stop thinking of Kishan’s body. They were eating him alive in there! They would do the same thing to him that they did to Father – scoop him out from the inside and leave him weak and helpless, until he got tuberculosis and died on the floor of a government hospital, waiting for some doctor to see him, spitting blood on this wall and that!”

Let’s take that with a grain of salt, shall we.

Generally the book has been liked all around. In Paul Bryant’s review I found a quote from a review from London Review of Books, seemingly, the only negative one:

"What of Balram Halwai? What does he sound like? Despite the odd namaste, daal, paan and ghat, his vocabulary is not sprinkled with North Indian vernacular terms. His sentences are mostly short and crudely constructed, apparently a reflection of the fact that we’re dealing with a member of the ‘subaltern’ classes. He doesn’t engage in Rushdian word-play. But he does use a series of expressions that simply don’t add up. He describes his office as a ‘hole in the wall’. He refers to ‘kissing some god’s arse’, an idiomatic expression that doesn’t exist in any North Indian language. ‘Half-formed ideas bugger one another, and make more half-formed ideas’ and the Chinese prime minister is advised never to ‘let that blasphemous idea into your yellow skull’. On another matter, he sneers: ‘They’re so yesterday.’ A clever little phrase appears: ‘A statutory warning – as they say on cigarette packs – before we begin.’ Dogs are referred to as ‘mutts’.
Yet whose vocabulary and whose expressions are these?”

Well, that’s just bananas. Maybe the whole book should just be written in Hindi for the sake of accuracy?

I’m writing a novel in English which talks about Poland and Polish people. There is a scene in which one of my characters decides not to name her daughter ‘Mary’ after all saying that ‘Mary sounded too docile, little Mary that had a little lamb.’ And I just can’t wait for someone to point it out to me that a Polish woman in 1981 was not likely to know an English nursery rhyme about Mary and her lamb. Well, if/when I’m working on a Polish version of it will be changed to “Little orphan Mary and the dwarves”, which is, I suppose, culturally accurate but would be completely unintelligible to an English reader.
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Reading Progress

April 16, 2011 – Shelved
October 29, 2012 – Started Reading
November 4, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Mir (last edited Nov 05, 2012 09:02AM) (new)

Mir There's also those many hymns about Mary being a humble and obedient (meek, mild, et al adjectives) maid -- since Poland is so Catholic I'm sure they have similar verses.

I'd like to hear about the orphan and the dwarves, though!


Simon I knew you were writing a novel, and I just assumed it would be in Polish. I'm curious to learn about how you made your decision to write in English. Is English also a mother tongue for you?


Kinga Miriam wrote: "There's also those many hymns about Mary being a humble and obedient (meek, mild, et al adjectives) maid -- since Poland is so Catholic I'm sure they have similar verses.

I'd like to hear about th..."


There's a bit from the prayer to Mary in it as well. I just didn't paste everything as it would be too long. :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Ko... - although they translated it as Gnomes, rather than Dwarves. I went for the same word that is in Snow White.


Kinga Simon wrote: "I knew you were writing a novel, and I just assumed it would be in Polish. I'm curious to learn about how you made your decision to write in English. Is English also a mother tongue for you?"

Well, I live in UK and this is where I work, so I guess it would be natural to write in English. It's not my native language but I hope I can pull it off anyway.

I'm really writing it for the British audience, to tell them a little about this strange nation that invaded them in 2004.

I'm going to be like Joseph Conrad. :)


message 5: by Mir (new)

Mir I'm going to be like Joseph Conrad. :)

Try to skip the debt, depression, and attempted suicide parts.


Simon That's interesting. (My SO is Italian, but she has lived so long in the US that she prefers to write in English - indeed will only write in English.)

I'm looking forward, then, to getting a chance to read your book!


message 7: by Mir (new)

Mir My SO is Italian, but she has lived so long in the US that she prefers to write in English - indeed will only write in English.

Mine spoke and wrote both English and German perfectly when we met, but has gotten worse at both due to my sloppy Californianism. When he was visiting his family in Munich this spring they told him he had developed an American accent and now he is embarrassed to speak German.

I know a Belgian and American who co-author together. They say that when they can't agree they just each put it how they want in their language, so the German and English versions sometimes differ quite a bit.


Simon That's rad!


message 9: by Mag (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mag Good luck with your novel! I think you CAN pull it off.


Kinga Mag - thanks! I hope so! It's very scary though

Simon & Mirian - stupid goodreads didn't tell me about your comments!

I lived for a year in America with absolutely no contact with any Polish people, except for occasional emails (internet was rare and dial-up mostly back then). When I came back I spoke really funny and my friends wrote down some of the best things I said.

Living in UK is different. There is plenty of Polish people and Polish cultural events (although what speak here could only be called some bastard Ponglish), libraries stock many Polish books and thanks to low cost flights I get to visit Poland a lot. I now make a conscious effort to maintain my Polish in the best possible form, while also improving my English (and keep the two separated so they don't pollute each other - that's the hardest).


message 11: by Jill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jill Great review, Kinga! Esp love that last paragraph. :)


Ricky Sandhu I love this novel. It was such a delight. I think it is a sad story told with a sense of humour. Your review is fantastic. Also, I really admire your ambition and courage to write a novel. It's very refreshing that you are able to talk about it with confidence. Good luck.


Kinga Bittersweet wrote: "What may I ask is a ‘sari & curry’ novel? I don’t know what Indian novels you write about, but please stop and take a moment to think before you reduce an entire country; it’s authors, and the lite..."

I think you misunderstood my comment. I would like to reply but not sure what you're even driving at. You don't seem to make much sense.

I was precisely pointing out I was tired of those novels endlessly exploring the cliches associated with India.

Additionally, it was not Paul Bryant who makes those comments - I did say he was quoting a LBR review (which was written by Sanjay Subrahmanyam - he is the one making those comments).

And did you just call Indian literature mediocre at best?

I really don't know what I'm supposed to reply to this.


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