The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

27 Oct

The whole world is talking about Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize but I got to read it only now. The write-ups before the Booker were uninspiring and I stayed away. Come to think of it, I think only Arundhati Roy deserved her Booker, Kiran Desai’s book was lame and Rushdie’s book convoluted. The White Tiger is a ‘made for Booker’ product – clinical and following a formula, with the right ingredients in just the right amounts.

The narrative is in the form of a letter that the protagonist is writing to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo on the eve of his visit to India. It plays out on the lines of a confession. Set in modern day India, the book traces the life of Balram Halwai from impoverished Laxmangarh in Gaya to the city lights of Bangalore. Starting off as a driver, Balram turns into a succesful entrepreneur and in the course of that journey he murders and robs his master. The plot is simple and unpretentious and that makes it eminently readable. The simplicity is keeping in with the allegorical style that Adiga has used. However, this is where the whole plot is suspect. The benefit of using the allegorical style is that it leaves the onus on the reader to try and discover meanings and thoughts hidden in the novel. Classic modern examples are Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? One can find hidden meanings every time you read it. I dont see too much of that happening with The White Tiger and that is a smart move by Adiga.

He has used two main leitmotifs – Darkness and the Rooster’s Coop. Darkness is the stark reality – of life in Indian villages, of ignorance and poverty. And the Rooster’s Coop is about servility, of serfdom and the infamous Indian habit of reticence and irresponsiveness to injustice. The imagery is stark and tends to get nauseating, he tends to go overboard with the descriptions of dirt, grime and filth. At times it feels like he is playing to the galleries. He has however captured the ethos of both Delhi and Bangalore brilliantly. The digs on bureaucracy, the allusion to ‘the great socialist’ and the police force sit well.

In terms of characterisation, Balram is drawn pretty well, though his reason for the murder is not convincing enough. And this is largely because the build up to the killing is not laid out well. Ashok as the business man is painted with the soft human colours but again not well etched, there are several instances when his actions lack logic. The language is simple and Adiga has done well on that front keeping in mind that Balram is semi literate. There are flashes of well placed humour as well.  

Amitav Ghosh will feel indignant that all the research and hard work he put in to create Sea of Poppies came to naught beside The White Tiger, and rightly so. The White Tiger, a decent read? Yes. Booker? No.

The White Tiger hardly mews.


Posted by on October 27, 2008 in Best sellers, Recommended


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35 responses to “The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

  1. Brooks Anderson

    June 18, 2009 at 3:55 am

    Hi Davematt,

    I had to hand it to Vikram Chandra for getting a $1 million advance from his publisher for Sacred Games.

    Yesterday I got a copy of Abraham Eraly’s novel from the library and look forward to reading it.


    • davematt

      June 18, 2009 at 3:58 am

      Touche Brooks :-)…

      Let me know what you think about Eraly’s novel

  2. Brooks Anderson

    June 12, 2009 at 1:28 am

    Hi Davematt,

    I’m curious to read your review of Sacred Games.


    • davematt

      June 12, 2009 at 3:21 am

      Hi Brooks,

      Sacred Games was gifted to me and as they say, you shouldn’t look a gift horse……..I tried not to. Unfortunately I just could not go futher than 2 chapters. And not just once, twice. My view is that it was a lot of hype, however, you have to hand it to him for the sheer volume of the novel. Its not an easy job filling pages after pages of nothing 🙂


  3. Brooks Anderson

    June 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Hi Davematt,

    Did you read The Space Between Us?


    • davematt

      June 11, 2009 at 11:07 am

      Hi Brooks,

      I am sorry, that book seems to have been missed. I checked it online and found it quite interesting. I am adding it to my reading list.

      Thanks so much.

  4. Silvia

    February 20, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Ah, I forgot to say… When they gave the results of the Booker I felt very sorry for Ghosh.
    So I wrote him an email through his website to tell him that Seas of Poppies was “my” Booker (I don’t think that meant anything to him :-))
    He replied a few days later, thanking for the email.
    So, you see, I do agree that there are better writers!!!

    And now I stop commenting every single post of your blog… 🙂

    • davematt

      February 23, 2009 at 4:24 am

      Please do continue commenting. I would love hearing your thoughts.

  5. Silvia

    February 20, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Yes, for sure India has many other deserving writers.
    And for sure there are good writers in Indian languages, that I would love to read, but I can’t. 😦

    Thanks for visiting my blog, I guess you couldn’t understand much. It is actually all in Italian (not that it is much help for you)!
    I hope one day to write some post in English, but my English is not that good…

    • davematt

      February 23, 2009 at 4:31 am

      On the contrary your English is pretty good Silvia. I think you should try and write your next post on India in English 🙂

  6. Silvia

    February 20, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Dear davematt,
    nice blog you have.
    As a ‘westerner’ interested in Indian writing (and writing myself a blog about it in my mother language), I did not dislike the White Tiger.
    I found it original and reveling many aspects of India that the westerner is actually ignoring (most of ‘westerners’ think of India as an exotic place with meditating sadhu, spiritual and religious people or, on the other end, as a technology paradise). I heard many people who read the book saying ‘oh, I didn’t know about that’.
    Its main weak point is that such a book is one-dimensional. It has only one point of view, only one objective.
    No doubt Ghosh’s Seas of Poppies was much better.
    However, I am always happy when an Indian writer wins a Booker, even if the book is a made for Booker product.
    I hope it could bring to more interest in India and to more Indian writers published in the West (and since The God of the Small Thing – great book -, I think it did).

    • davematt

      February 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks so much Silvia for your comments. I agree with you that from a western perspective there are several things that do seem interesting, and I have no issues with that. I am happy too that an Indian received a Booker, however, I feel there are better and more deserving writers.

      I did visit your blog and was impressed with your interest on India (thought it was all ‘French” to me :-). Would be good to read translations of your posts, especially on Indian Writing in English.

  7. Ashvin

    February 7, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Hmm maybe not my kinda forum… I have always felt God of Small Things was a sheer waste of time but liked reading White Tiger

    • davematt

      February 7, 2009 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks Ashvin, to each his own 🙂

  8. Anish Anand

    February 1, 2009 at 3:21 am

    “Well Navita… much against my will I have to say this….. I told you so” … Well, as for me, i laboured myself to go past page 35 and finish the book, and quoting you, “told you so” is what i m experiencing right now…. What made the Booker guys to sit up and notice this book is still some sort of a mystery…. Sea of Poppies is way above this piece of Crap… For me, its like “The White Tiger, a decent read? No. Booker? Definitely No” …. Anyway, just started Enchantress of Florence… Hope Rusdie will help me get over the “White Tiger” effect

    • davematt

      February 2, 2009 at 8:32 am

      Hi Anish, dont get your hopes high on ‘Enchantress’ either. I gave up pretty early.

  9. davematt

    November 25, 2008 at 5:11 am

    Not at all Roopa, and that is exactly what I mean by ‘writing to a formula’. The lure of the lucre gets the better of many Indian writers.

  10. roocu

    November 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    why is that Indian books that get the Booker, always tend to potray India as how the white man wants to see it: The squalor, the sad pompousness of the wannabe ‘indian westerner’..the india which is still invisibly colonized?
    Is this what it really is or is it just me who is being defensive?

  11. davematt

    November 17, 2008 at 2:58 am

    Well Navita, swimming would be an easy exercise, this is more like wading through quick sand….man… the book goes on and on and on……

  12. Navita

    November 15, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    And you dont have to say…”i told you so”…. THAT … would be my line…:)

  13. Navita

    November 15, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Ummm…you must be swiming somewhere else dear…floating through Sea of poppies cant take so much of time…

  14. davematt

    November 4, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Well Navita… much against my will I have to say this….. I told you so 🙂

  15. Navita

    November 4, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Laughs…Indeed!…i started white tiger for no other reason than it got gifted to me….and had been staring at me for a week now..and believe me you…page 35 and cant go beyond…eeewww. 🙂

  16. davematt

    November 3, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Touche Padma 🙂

  17. padmajav

    November 3, 2008 at 5:16 am

    Hi! Its been a long time because you’ve been too busy with the Tiger that you’ve had no time to blog!
    I’m sure you’ll enjoy Sea of Poppies more!

  18. davematt

    November 3, 2008 at 3:05 am

    @Padma – Hi, long time :-). We are going in the reverse, I have just started Sea of Poppies.

    @Spudsie – you are so right, the motives and the action just doesn’t reconcile.

    @Luminog – Thanks for dropping by. I am glad some people agree with my point of view :-).

  19. luminog

    November 2, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Davematt, you are right.

  20. spudsie

    November 2, 2008 at 12:15 am

    I just finished reading this. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who thought Balram’s reason for murder weren’t quite….enough. It seemed a little forced (for lack of a better word.)

    It certainly kept my attention and was an interesting read. But I had really expected a little more.

  21. padmajav

    November 1, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Mmmm.. I still haven’t read the book you reviewed last! I shall come to White Tiger after that!

  22. davematt

    October 31, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks Medhini. As an Indian it feels good that it got the Booker, as a reader I am disappointed.

  23. Medhini

    October 31, 2008 at 2:41 am

    I agree to the fact that The white tiger made for Booker’ product’.

  24. davematt

    October 30, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Yes Navita, the magic has begun 🙂

  25. Navita

    October 29, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Hi Dave and Matt or Dave or Matt….just sit back and let the book happen…let the magic begin.

  26. davematt

    October 29, 2008 at 6:11 am

    Hi Navita, I have just started on Sea of Poppies, hope it is better than White Tiger 🙂

  27. Navita

    October 28, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    White tiger mew’D? did it?? Really??? aww come on…Be NICE..!!
    Irrespective of Booker or no booker..Sea of Poppies flowed…and it flowed damn well.


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