Saturday, May 15, 2010

The White Tiger

The White Tiger The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. But I was nicely surprised! It was a very entertaining read! It is an eye-opening look at the "new" India, through the eyes of a boy/young man, Balram, from the lower class. He ends up in the 'big city' working as a driver for one of the 'new rich' families. Through his experiences we are exposed to the reality of modern-day India: unimaginable wealth and consumerism is literally side-by-side with utter poverty and filth. Needless to say, those without money are daily/hourly reminded of their poverty and there place in society. Centuries of teachings on castes and religion attempt to 'keep everyone in their place'. But with the advent of modern communication and travel, the poor see the inequity and injustice in the current society, but are mostly powerless to do anything to change their circumstances.

Balram is a likable character - intelligent, curious and has the ability to see things as they are. He knows that he is no different than the rich man he works for, but he hasn't the means to change things - or so it seems. His observations about society and what it means to be successful are very enlightening.

The books is written as a series of letters to the soon to visit premier of China. Balram is attempting to prepare the premier for what the real India is like. This epistolary style is very effective, as the reader of the book is the one who is really getting the message.

Balram doesn't sugar coat anything - we see the rampant corruption of government, that is so systemic there is no other way to run the country. We see crass consumerism flaunted in the face of utter poverty. We see the cruelty of the local 'landlords' who beat and kill and steal from their tenant farmers. We see how the servants do little things to get back at their masters.

What we really see is a country that is at once modern and high tech, but at the same time it is feudal and backwards. This dichotomy is very clearly shown to us. Yet, Balram never seems to question why things are the way they are - he's too busy just trying to figure out a way to get ahead. He learns the game, and takes drastic steps to get out of the virtual cage in which society has placed him. He doesn't seem to rant against inequities or injustice or complain that India needs to be reformed. He just figures out how to succeed, based on the current 'law of the jungle'. And despite his less than ethical actions, I still liked him, and found myself rooting for him - most of the time. I think this duality of his character is very symbolic of India as a whole - there is much to be admired, and much to condemn, yet they exist side by side.

I know that I shall never think of India in the same way after reading this, and I have to think that was the author's goal. I definitely recommend this book - it will open your eyes to the real India, and maybe also make you think about your own ethics and beliefs.

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