I had to pass the ball on picking a book for my work book club. I’ve picked enough, it was time to let someone else make a choice. We ended up with The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, a book one member had already read and enjoyed. It was a Man Booker winner, which can be hit or miss for me. I was the last to read it and went in skeptical, but I really enjoyed the book.
Summary from Goodreads:
The white tiger of this novel is Balram Halwai, a poor Indian villager whose great ambition leads him to the zenith of Indian business culture, the world of the Bangalore entrepreneur. On the occasion of the president of China’s impending trip to Bangalore, Balram writes a letter to him describing his transformation and his experience as driver and servant to a wealthy Indian family, which he thinks exemplifies the contradictions and complications of Indian society.
The only other Man Booker winner I’ve read is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I didn’t particularly enjoy. But I know Jhumpa Lahiri has been shortlisted and I LOVED a book of hers that I read. So I went in with some expectations (it would be a very literary novel) but not too many. Add on to that one woman from my book group (there are three of us so this is a big part of it!) who didn’t like it. I understand now that it’s because Balram is such an unlikable character. So despite all that negative energy, I found myself really enjoying this book. I loved the strong voice Balram provided and even though I thought he was a terrible person who lied and betrayed, I wanted him to succeed. Having these mixed feelings made me enjoy the book even more.
I don’t know too much about modern Indian culture. A lot of what I know is from fictional books, a bit of first-hand stories, and news articles. So as far as I know, the characters seemed credible, but I don’t feel like I can comment on that without traveling to India. Unfortunately, this book blog does not have a large travel budget, so I can only say as far as I’m aware. Anyone who would like to contribute to the travel budget, please let me know.
Mr. Ashok was my favorite character and I felt bad for him! He went through some real struggles in his life. His family was corrupted and pressured him to behave badly against his will. He saw the world he lived in worked in as a terrible place and wanted nothing more than to return to a simpler place. He was a lackey for his father and brother. And all the things he disliked about himself made his wife dislike him and eventually leave him. Poor guy! I found him much more sympathetic than Balram.
I could relate to Balram’s desire to rise, but couldn’t imagine stepping on those around me the way he did to get there. His mental process was so flawed that I had problems understanding his motivation. He was consistently written, but it was beyond something I could imagine.
The two car crashes were very telling of the characters and I enjoyed them a lot. The first influenced my feelings on Pinky and the Indian government system and the moral compasses of the characters. I felt the book started to take a lot of turns after this event that it wouldn’t have otherwise. The second car crash said a lot about what kind of person Balram is. He didn’t want the things that had happened to him to happen to his employee, but he still had no compassion for the dead. He never felt bad for those who died.
The descriptions of Ashok’s family and what they did in India weren’t interesting to me. I could have done with less of them. To me, they didn’t move the story and were the author’s complaints about India. I think his plot did that enough and I thought the additional fluff was unnecessary.
The major theme I got from this book was about ambition. Balram wanted to rise above where he was born and he was willing to step on an anyone to get there. In the end, he ended up being as bad as those he complained about and on whom he blamed his lowly beginnings. It was an example of ‘beat them at their own game’ that didn’t sit well with me. I understand why it had to happen the way it did, but that doesn’t mean I liked it!
Writer’s Takeaway: I loved with Adiga did with Balram’s voice in this book. He had such a distinct voice and personality and I thought he was a great character even if he was a questionable human being. In first person narration, it’s always a good idea to give the speaker a strong voice and I think Adiga did an amazing job with this.
Really enjoyable but with characters that made me question humanity too much, Four out of Five stars.
Until next time, write on.
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