Book Club Reflection: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

21 May

Because I was the last person to read The White Tiger in my book group we were able to discuss it very soon after. It was a short discussion because it was preceded by learning that SB was moving to another building. We still intend to continue our book club meetings, but this will slightly complicate a meeting location. Fingers crossed that we can continue everything as normal.

We used the Lit Lovers Discussion questions to guide our conversation. I will be reviewing the book in its entirety and the ending will be spoiled. Proceed with caution.

VV choose this book. She was born in India and travels there to visit friends and family. She told us that the plot line of a low-born person rising to a position of power and wealth is a common theme in Indian movies and stories. In that sense, this book’s plot is not original. Though I doubt many of the stories involve murder and such questionable morals.

Did Balram win us over? SB said no and I have to agree with her. He did so many terrible things that his ambition was unrelatable to me. I understand wanting to better your station in life, but the cost was too high. VV understood where he was coming from. It was his ambition that made him stand out from the million other low-born in the country. Without ambition, he would have been like the boy killed on his bike. She didn’t agree with what he had to do but could see what drove it.

Balram’s story is told through a series of letters to the Chinese Premier, a man of very high rank. The fact that Balram thinks he is worthy of addressing such a man and in a very informal manner says a lot about his character. He saw them as equals; both focused on themselves and ambitious to go after something others might see as unobtainable. The informal language and references to his sex life either show a familiarity between them or Balram’s lack of education about proper manners.

SB and I both related more to Ashoke. We understood is complaints with Indian bribery because it was something he learned while studying in the US. In business school, ethics was drilled into our heads in every class. No bribes, no extravagant gifts, etc. Ashoke had learned that and then gone back to his homeland where everything was different. We felt as bewildered as he did.

Balram educates himself by absorbing the knowledge around him. He listens to what others are saying about stealing the car or sending back less money and learns to exploit these to better himself. He listens for opportunities and then chases them down.

Balram repeats this couplet to himself in the latter parts of the book,

I was looking for the key for years
but the door was always open.

We felt that this couplet spoke to him about missed opportunities. If he didn’t try the door to see if it was open, he could be wondering around for years looking for a way to open it. It was better to try to learn he needed to find a key than to look for the key outright.

Balram’s grandmother wrote to him to try to guilt him into sending more money. Instead, he let them die. She pointed out that he was shirking his responsibilities, which he knew he was doing. He resented having those responsibilities in the first place. He wanted to be free and not have his family relying on him for money. VV pointed out that the family he was supporting kept growing. There were children, like Dharam, that he didn’t even know about. As the family grew, they were asking for more money and as Balram’s salary grew and he felt he could use more of it for personal reasons, more of it was being demanded. He would never be free of his family.

We felt that Balram stopped caring about Ashoke when they moved to Delhi. Once he saw the opportunities in the city, he wanted it for himself. The divide between him and his family was now larger than it had ever been before and he got greedy so started thinking of ways to take advantage of his masters.

There were stark differences between the way the characters reacted after Pinky hit someone while driving and when Balram’s driver did. It was hush money for Balram versus paying for ones loss with the driver. VV told us that blaming the driver is more common than we would think. She pointed us to a recent court case in India where actor Salman Khan drunkenly drove over five men and his driver initially took the blame. He has now been sentenced to jail for the deaths (can I say 5 years seems really short?).

The final question asked us if we thought this was a cautionary tale or a hopeful one. SB felt it was cautionary and didn’t offer any venue for hope. VV felt it was a truthful account and gave a good indication of where the country is headed. I think it was more cautionary. If Balram is the future, that’s not very hopeful.

Our next book will be A Widow for One Year by John Irving. I hope the others love Irving as much as I do!

Until next time, write on.

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2 Responses to “Book Club Reflection: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga”

  1. curiousdaisies May 22, 2015 at 5:08 AM #

    I just got my copy recently. I won’t read the whole post cause I dont know how it stands on spoilers but I’m excited to read this 😀


    • Sam May 22, 2015 at 6:03 AM #

      Probably for the best! I try to keep reviews spoiler free but book club reflections sometimes require ending discussions. Happy reading!


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