One of my 2009 resolutions is to read at least 2 books a month. I’ve just read Man Booker Prize winner “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga. It spurred a lot of thoughts on different levels, so I thought it was worthy of a review.
Start the book and its English is so bad, you are embarrassed for the writer. This got a Man Booker? OK, the story is a perspective of India – specifically New Delhi – through the eyes of a poor chauffeur, with limited education. It’s written in first person by this driver, so I guess the awful English reflects the character, but it took me a good 100 pages to stop getting irritated with the crude language.
The book is written in form of 7 letters that Balram (the chauffeur) writes to the Chinese prime minister, narrating to him his life story, something that he feels the Chinese premier needs to know before he visits India. He writes about his life in the village (“The Darkness”), and how he makes it to the “light” (New Delhi) by getting a job as the driver of a very rich family in the capital city. The book unravels how he evolves from an honest and naive villager – slave to his master, to this feisty and murderous thief-turn-entrepreneur who was ready to do anything he needed, to free himself from shackles of the cast system and his assumed “forever-servant” destiny.
Other than bad grammar, the writing style is vulgar, and unpleasant. He depicts a corrupt, unjust, and disgusting India. He spits at the country and the way it functions. If you are an Indian reading it, you will feel sick as you turn the pages, but not at any point will you think he is exaggerating; you know it’s fiction, but it could very much be the hard truth.
I think the book is a great read, but only if you can put aside the irritation you will often feel about the language. It’s a completely different perspective of “India Shining”, one that as an Indian you will not be able deny.
The author has some great credentials, and for a first novel it was a bold and risky attempt that worked. Worth a read, especially if you are Desi. If you are not Indian and have read this book, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.