Created on Tuesday, 22 September 2009 14:00
Written by Elaine
By Aravind Adiga
S$13 from Popular (title on 20% discount, while stocks last)
Aravind Adiga's debut novel, "The White Tiger", is a story of self-made, successful entrepreneur, Balram Halwai, and his many other identities set in the background of India's developing technology industry. He is an exemplar of darkness emerging into the light; the poor triumphing in life by the sweat of his brow and some street-wise intelligence.
The novel begins with Balram addressing the visiting Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, of whom he deeply respects. The story unfolds: Balram is from the lower caste in India's society. He is one born to make sweets and serve tea at the teashop despite his intelligence as illustrated by a visiting official's compliment that he is a "white tiger" and hence, the book's title. Balram goes through a series of ups and downs. Down first, withdrawn from school due to a distant cousin's wedding, in which the female's family - his family - has to pay a huge dowry. Later, he gets a relatively prestigious job as a driver to a gentle but weak-minded son of the local feudal landlord. And finally he ends up an unremorseful murderer for a bag of money that financed his success story.
From an innocent, honest and hardworking boy, Balram is alarmingly convincing in justifying his transformation to a murderer. One that does not regret his actions - he was awoken by a nightmare that he did not kill his employer and remained as an under-appreciated driver -, and later, him considering killing the nephew whom he saved. But somehow Balram is a villain whose actions we can understand and even deem reasonable?
Here, with its simple and clear language, "The White Tiger" reveals itself more of a social commentary than a novel. The book illustrates the inequalities in India even in the midst of its economic progress - one that is still unfamiliar to some of its people - through Balram's realistic observations of the social order in his country.
Author Adiga is former business correspondent for Time magazine and lives in Mumbai. "The White Tiger" won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.