Sunday, May 02, 2010
Apparently there was a lot of hue and cry when this won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Critics thought that Adiga was too young, that the book was too rough, not polished enough. Stuart Jeffries, writing in the Guardian, wonders where Adiga “gets the nerve” to write a novel about the experiences of the Indian poor when he (Adiga) is a child of the Indian privileged class. To this question Adiga responds “I don't think a novelist should just write about his own experiences. Yes, I am the son of a doctor, yes, I had a rigorous formal education, but for me the challenge of a novelist is to write about people who aren't anything like me." I actually think it was kind of insulting for Jeffries to ask this at all; good writers take on other voices all the time.
And Adiga does it effectively. I really liked The White Tiger, which tells the tale of Balram Halwai, a rickshaw puller’s son who, against all odds, pulls himself up by his bootstraps (and commits murder along the way) to get established in the “new India.” The whole book is in the form of a series of letters from Balram to the visiting Chinese premier, and it’s a great device for mixing trenchant observation and humor. Balram lays it all out: the poverty, the abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers, the corruption of the Indian democracy, the complete lack of health care and education for the laboring classes. It’s like he’s pulled back a curtain on the current image of India as a hotbed of innovation to reveal the ancient sick society underneath. Yet Balram’s optimism, creativity, and verve carry us along.
The white tiger (also known as the Bengal tiger) has long been a symbol of the old India. In this book it is Balram himself who is the white tiger, a rare creature, intelligent, strong, and resourceful.
(Book 20, 2010)