The White Tiger


Aravind Adiga




Date Reviewed:

November 29, 2009

am surprised that this novel won the 2008 Booker Prize. Shouldn't award winning novels be great? This book is merely okay. I checked the list of 2008 nominees to see if another work should have won the award instead, but I haven't yet read any of the other books yet - though none them looking particularly interesting. Perhaps 2008 was a slow year for novels.

The reviews for The White Tiger that are posted on Amazon's website don't seem to match the book that I read. The snippet from the New York Time's review calls Tbe White Tiger "darkly comic" - but there was nothing comical in this book. The Publisher's Weekly blurb calls the narrator of the book, Balram Halwai, a bloodthirsty murderer. The chauffeur Halwai does kill his master, (I am giving nothing away by telling you this, since Halwai confess in the opening chapter that he is a man wanted by the police for the murder of his master) - but the definition of bloodthirsty is adj. 1) Eager to shed blood 2) Characterized by great carnage. Halwai may be a killer, but he is not a bloodthirty one, he is a desperate member of India's lower class (which he call "The Darkness") who kills his employer and escapes with a large sum of money so he can lead a life in "The Light".

The White Tiger is the narrative of Halwai's life, from his lowly origins in a village as the son of a rickshaw puller, to his fortunate break in getting a job as a driver for one of the wealthy families, to his crime and flight. The novel allows Adiga, speaking through the voice of Halwai, to deliver a lot of commentary on the social institutions of India. We read about corrupted officials, rigged elections, dowry's, but especially about the differences between the classes. As a driver for the wealthy Ashok, Halwai enters a world that he only imagined as a poor villager.

That pretty much sums up the novel: a poor man enters the world of the rich man, and observes that the wealthy are not any smarter, nor more noble, nor honest, than the destitute people back in his village. Throughout the novel we witness a lot of deeds and talk of the rich, but everything is filtered through perspective of this previously poor man. I guess it illuminates how bad the caste system is. But novel is devoid of tension or drama or romance. None of the characters are especially likable (after all, the hero is a self-confessed killer). The book gives us a view of Indian society, and then it ends. If it had been a longer novel, I might not have finished it, because it just isn't that compelling.