A Note From the Editor: We *love* our readers! In honor of Valentine’s day, crosscountryreading honors its readers with our very first ever guest read! Please enjoy the following review by loyal reader, Betsyreads.
Title: The White Tiger
Author: Aravind Adiga
Publisher: Free Press, 2008
& HaperCollins India, 2008
Prize Winner: 40th Man Booker Prize, 2008
Am I not a part of all that is changing in this country? Haven’t I succeeded in the struggle that every poor man here should be making – the struggle not to take the lashes your father took, not to end up in a mound of indistinguishable bodies that will rot in the black mud of Mother Ganga? True, there was the matter of murder – which is a wrong thing to do, no question about it. It has darkened my soul. All the skin-whitening creams sold in the markets of India won’t clean my hands again (p. 473).
Munna, The White Tiger, Balram, and Ashok Sharma are identities of the same fictional man, and metaphors for the actual men of modern India. Munna, which translates as “boy,” is the son of a tuberculosis-infected, half-starved, low caste rickshaw driver, and as such is expected to be content with a life of sweeping dirt and mice off of sweetshop floors. The White Tiger is his adolescent nickname, assigned by the grandmother who knows Munna to be a rare and crafty child. With the grandmother’s help, The White Tiger becomes Balram, a hired driver (of an actual automobile, not a rickshaw!) for a powerful, enigmatic landlord in the local area.
In the context of living and working as the landlord’s driver and general servant, Balram learns about the complexities of Indian society in the cities beyond his village, which he dubs “The Darkness.” He shares with his intended reader, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, his revelations about the shifting realities of an ancient caste system, political corruption, marital traditions, family dynamics, and the key to business success in a rapidly changing India. Favorable comparisons to Chinese society are offered almost as frequently as mocking references to American absurdities. Overall, the perspective of the protagonist is intelligent and insightful, if at times crude and jarring.
Following a circular timeframe, the reader is cued at the beginning to follow Balram’s story to a foreshadowed act of incredible violence that changes, some might say frees, his life. He very unapologetically becomes Ashok Sharma, boldly adopting part of his former master’s own name. Using a metaphor of a rooster coop, in which animals corral themselves and are ultimately responsible for their own entrapment, Ashok Sharma admits how he was “looking for the key for years, but the door was always open.” The cost of opening that door is given little consideration.
A Western reader would be foolish to miss the obvious parallels to the economic and political systems of the United States. At least in India, the caste system is intentional – its existence is visible and its consequences acknowledged. In the United States, one could argue, a more insidious caste system exists. Where the caste system is invisibly enforced but outwardly denied, one must be even more of a White Tiger to change one’s status.
Betsyreads recommends this book for readers looking for a glimpse into the India that is kept carefully hidden from travel brochures. Readers intrigued by intermingled discussions of philosophy, economics, history, and religion will be rewarded. Aravind Adiga, in his first novel, allows the protagonist to ramble a bit – Hemingway fans may find themselves frustrated by the amount of sidetracked dialogue. Overall, the journey is worth the meandering. Due to persistent vulgarity, Betsyreads recommends this book for readers ages 16 and up.
Posted by: Guest, BetsyReads