Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Author: Aravind Adiga
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Content Alert: murder and sexual assault
Balram Halawai started life in an Indian village-- the second son of a rickshaw driver with tuberculosis. As a child, he's innocent, naive, and smarter than all of his peers, but that changes as he moves from the prized pupil in his elementary class, to an underling in a tea shop who gives all of his money to his grandmother, to a servant in a wealthy home who rises through the ranks, to the murderer of his employer, to entrepreneur. This is Breaking Bad, Indian-style-- the portrait of one man as he abandons his morals as he ascends the social ladder.
I'm not knowledgeable enough about Indian culture and politics to comment much on Adiga's treatment of these subjects, but there were times when the book seemed satirical, with Balram a bumbling fool. The story itself dragged in places. We knew at the beginning of the novel, which is framed as a series of letters between Balram and a Chinese politician, that he would eventually murder his employer, and the story unfolded in such a straightforward manner, a Dickensian tale of modern India, that I was underwhelmed. I wanted twists and turns, I wanted surprises, and I got exactly what I would have expected from the first page of the first letter. The White Tiger illuminates a culture, but I'm not sure it's especially compelling from a storytelling perspective.