May Book of the Month: "White Tiger" Aravind Adiga

By Book Club on Apr 29, 09 04:18 PM

On the eve of a state visit to India by the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabo, Balram Halwai, successful businessman and owner of a mini-cab firm, sits down to write him a series of letters. The purported aim of the Prime Minister's trip is investigate the legendary Indian entrepreneurial spirit and how it can be encouraged in China, and Balram is worried that that this opportunity might be wasted if he speaks only to dignitaries. He wants to tell him how an Indian entrepreneur is really born. After all he has been there....

What unfolds in these letters is Balram's twisted rags-to-riches journey from "the Darkness", the poverty stricken, rural north of India, to business success story, via hard work, crazed ambition and the odd heinous crime. Born in Laxmangarh, a semi-feudal hellhole ruled by a family of local landlords, to a TB-riddled mother and rickshaw driving father, Balram looks destined for similar life of deprivation and exploitation. Balram, however, is a "white tiger"- "the rarest of animals- the creature that only comes along once a generation"- and is determined to escape his fate. Through a killer combination of amorality and self-belief, he frees himself from his doting family and becomes a chauffeur to the son of a local landlord. From this lowly position he can observe the ways of Dehli's nouveau riche- whose positions are secured though endemic corruption and vast wads of cash- at close quarters, until he has learned enough to thrive on his own in the new India.

White Tiger, Aravind Adiga's first novel and the most recent winner of the Booker prize, has caused controversy in India for its effective demolition of the "saffron-and-saris" India of popular imagination. Through Balram's eyes, we see up close the vicious effects of poverty, the huge and widening gap between rich and poor and the lengths to which you have to go to survive. And we laugh a lot at the same time.

See what you think....

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