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February 14, 2010

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga - ISBN 9781416562603

This unique novel is a sleeper of sorts. A "first book," and the winner of the Man Booker Prize (a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English) and a wonderful explication of life in modern India. It was written by a native, educated at Columbia University, who has returned to India to live and work.

Charming is not a word one would use, since he exposes a lot of the intrigue, corruption, and conundrums of life in India, especially for the poor: i.e. most of the population. For those of us who saw the movie Slum Dog Millionaire, it isn't a total shock, but Adiga emphasizes that Bollywood isn't exactly representative of India.

The principal protagonist, Balram, is a poor, lower caste Indian whose father--a rickshaw man--wants his son to be more than he had the opportunity to be; to "live like a man, not a donkey." He contrives as best possible to get his son an education, but the conditions mitigate this goal, largely due to village corruption. Balram is forced to the city to look for work and becomes a driver for a wealthy business man; a lesser protagonist who is corrupt and unhappily married to a woman who wants money, leisure, and the things only available thru wealth in the new India. She's also a shrew.

The poor are used and treated like slaves, even by those "above them" amongst the household servants. Their betters vote for them and elections are rigged, capitalizing on the power pirated thereby. A little pamphlet, he explains, "will be given [to you] by the prime minister [which] will no doubt contain a very large section on the splendor of democracy in India--the awe-inspiring spectacle of one billion people casting their votes to determine their own future, in full freedom of franchise, and so on an so forth." It's a f***ing lie! Peasants are forbidden at the polls, and often beaten if they attempt to vote.

"Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many. A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent--as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way--to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key to his emancipation in a man's hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse."

Balram finally determines how to use the corruption to benefit himself, and becomes a prosperous and wealthy man; a serious and successful entrepreneur who, by murdering his master and stealing his money is able to open one lucrative business after another, all the while hiding his actual identity in a distant large city. He left "the Darkness" of village life and succeeded.

The entire plot of the book is to explain his life; its origins and thru his various endeavors to success and wealth. It is a dark, shadowy tale, but apparently true of modern India. It's very well written, interesting, and quite worthwhile.

Posted by Curmudgeon at February 14, 2010 9:52 AM