Adiga’s debut novel was the 2008 winner of the Man Booker Prize. There’s a certain cachet that comes attached to that especially if the author is relatively unknown. Adiga was, at one time, a correspondent for Time magazine- so he may actually be known to some people, but I’d never heard of him.
Truthfully, despite the accolades, I probably wouldn’t have picked up The White Tiger, but it was the choice for the book group I lead at a local book store.
In a series of missives written to His Excellency Wen Jiabao, Premier of China, Balram Halwai recounts the details of his life, from his modest beginnings in the small village of Laxmangarh to his rise as a successful entrepreneur. His tale is an interesting one and paints a picture of India quite unlike any we have seen in the recent spate of books by Indian authors. Balram’s India isn’t swirling pink saris and saffron-infused food, it’s cockroaches, abject poverty and a system that stifles creativity and social advancement.
Balram condemns this India – the country which failed his dying father, was not able to deliver to him a meaningful education and is so filthy dirty, unless you drive in an air conditioned car, living in Delhi will take ten years off your life.
Balram grows sick of living in the muck, though, and decides he wants something more for his life than cleaning the floors in a tearoom. He learns to drive and then, through a weird twist of fate, ends up being the driver for Mr. Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam. Ashok is one of the new breed of Indians. Schooled in America, he is kind and fair to Balram but even as Balram grows fond of him, he is looking for ways to advance himself. He’s not content to be a slave forever; he aspires to be the master.
The White Tiger has been universally praised by critics. Adiga has created a wonderfully complex character in Balram. It is hard not to sympathize with him even as he goes from being underdog to monster.
The book is worth the read.
1. How does what we think we know about India compare with how Adiga describes India in the book?
2. Why did Balram choose the Chinese Premier as the recipient of his letters?
3. Is the novel funny or not? Is the humour intentional?
4. Is there one image in the book that stands out for you? What is it and why?
5. Talk about the instances in the novel where Balram shows just how cunning he really is.
There is also a reading guide at the back of the book.