Sunday, May 9, 2010

The White Tiger

I just finished reading The White Tiger, by India novelist Aravind Adiga. Though a disturbing book on some levels, I found the narrator's story quite compelling. It is told first person in a series of letters from Indian entrepreneur Balram Halwai to the premier of China who is coming to India. His experience in moving from the lowest classes to the entrepreneurial class becomes a mechanism for showing the social and economic inequities in contemporary India. "Let's not form too glamorous a picture of what is happening there," Adiga seems to be saying.

The story details Balram's experience as a chauffeur for a very wealthy man, but in the telling we understand the disparity between his roots and the place of the rich, and the hopelessness that threatens to engulf him. He is a pawn with no value or power. The central thread then is how he came to make his choice, to murder his rich boss and assume a new role.

The first person narration is reminiscent of the existential voice used so effectively in books like Dostoevky's Notes from Underground, Sartre's Nausea and Andre Gide's The Immoralist. The character recounts for us the factors and forces that transform him from honest and insignificant to successful business owner.

A key metaphor in the novel is the rooster coop, an image the narrator returns to over and over again. reviewer Kerry Walters puts it this way: Balram recognizes that those who are eaten are trapped inside a small and closed cage--the rooster coop--that limits their opportunities. Even worse, they begin to internalize the limitations and indignities of the coop, so that after awhile they're unable to imagine they deserve any other world than the cramped one in which they exist. Balram's dream is to break free of his coop, to shed his feathers and become what for him is a symbol of individualism, power, and freedom: a white tiger. But as he discovers, white tigers have their own cages, too.

Not everyone will like the book, which won the Man Booker Prize. One critical review on cites that its appeal is due to the fact that its setting is foreign to us, and therefore exotic, adding that it is also overweighted with cliche dialogues and images. Nevertheless, for me, the book carried me through and served as a reminder that there is much suffering in our world, and let's not be too quick to whitewash others' sorrows.

For more reviews, or to purchase this book yourself, visit

The painting of a white tiger atop this page was produced yesterday afternoon during the KUMD Dylan Hour here in Duluth.


Amelia said...

hello there, and thank you for the follow on twitter


Sabine said...

Sounds like a good read. I'll have to check it out. Quite a striking photo of the tiger. Reminds me of the Blake line ... what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry....

ENNYMAN said...

It is actually a painting I did last Saturday. I will post on my art blog tomorrow.

The Blake line is good... I think also of the poem The Panther by Rilke, which is here:

thanks for visiting

Dosti SMS said...

Although the book is quite famous the plot isn't that great. It's just about a driver who murders his master and becomes a entrepreneur. There is nothing more than that.

Moreover the tone is mostly castigating Indian society and system and exaggerating every small flaw in Indian system out of proportion like it is happening all the time with every person