Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

The winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, The White Tiger, is the story of Balram, born in the darkness of India and privy to the seedy underbelly of a nation coming into its own. The story is told through a series of long correspondence from Balram to an important visiting Chinese national. The purposes of Balram's letters is to tell the real story of India - the story that a visiting high-ranking official would presumably not be exposed to. Balram's story is one of constant class warfare - as a driver for a very wealthy man in Mumbai, Balram is forced daily to compete with fellow servants for power within the household. He kowtows to his master and desires the success that money can buy - including blonde-haired prostitutes. At the same time, Balram is clear to decry the hypocrisy and constant bribery of the police and politicians rampant in his country, as he himself evades the constant demands for money from his own destitute family. While Balram as a character is clever at times, and a sympathetic narrator, his story is too one-dimensional to maintain credibility. The wealthy are all evil and selfish, and insensitive to the realities of those less well-off than themselves. The poor are ignorant and simplistic. Only Balram, in his own mind, is able to straddle the two worlds and explain them to the reader. The overall message of Adiga's novel is an important one - the struggles of a nation seeking to maintain the importance of its culture while emerging into a more modern society. Yet, at times Balram is too black-and-white in his critiques, making a mockery of the whole process.

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