Strengths: Funny, honest and page turning
Weaknesses: Some may find the occasional comment offensive
Why I read it: Looked interesting, plus I’m trying to read more about India
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Rating: 9 out of 10
If you liked this, try: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
The only reason I ended up with this book was because I was eager to read Adiga’s other book, Last Man in Tower. (Which, ironically, I haven’t read yet). A copy of The White Tiger came as a bonus. Fortunately, it was one of those freebies that are really, truly excellent. This was a stretch beyond my ‘usual’ reading but I loved it and I’m so glad I read it. It’s easily the best Man Booker winner I’ve read.
The plot is a little tricky to explain but I’ll give it a go. It’s an Indian man writing to a Chinese minister he heard on the radio. Eventually, the letter becomes longer and longer and Balram reveals all about his early life and how he eventually became an entrepreneur. I’m sorry. That sounds really boring, but trust me – it’s not! Balram is born into poverty in India, but his skill as a chauffeur means that he is able to get a ‘dream’ job acting as driver to a couple in the city. It’s not as good as it sounds. Balram still has to send money home, and he is not always treated fairly – by his employers or his fellow workers. Then there’s a murder…
There is a lot in this book about class differences in India – the differences between those who have money and can splash it about (such as Balram’s employers) and those that have very little (or are relying on family members to bring the money home, as in Balram’s case). Balram’s employer likes to show his wealth (having a driver is one of those ways he can), yet Balram has very little. The way that Adiga makes no character the hero or the villain is to be commended – and make us look more closely at our society in general.
I really enjoyed Balram’s voice, although I have read that others didn’t find his voice ‘authentic’. I’m not an Indian scholar, so I can’t comment on the type of slang or speech he ‘should’ have used. I liked the way he was completely unapologetic for the murder he committed and gave so many reasons to justify it. Even though the reader knows it’s wrong, you can’t help but admire his audacity, whether it be selling junk or building an empire. There are some comments that Balram makes that some may find to be racist, but I found it was in the context of his character.
The only problem with The White Tiger? It’s very hard to put down. It took over my days and nights until I finished it. Now where did I put that copy of Last Man in Tower…?