Tag: The White Tiger

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Man Booker Prize Winner

The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008.  I wasn’t familiar with this prize, so I did a little research.  Originally, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction was awarded each year for the best original novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom, with the intent being to recognize authors and encourage the widest possible readership, thus boosting book sales for the winner.  The prize is awarded to the book rather than the author and in 2014 the scope was widened to include any novel published in the English language. The prize money awarded to Man Booker winners is one of the largest amounts in the world of literary prizes.

Social Commentary

Adiga’s debut novel is a scathing social commentary on life in India in the beginning years of this century.  As Roberta noted in her Writer’s Review, Halwai, the main character, continually refers to the Darkness as a way to illustrate the demeaning and demoralizing existence of most Indians.  Throughout the book, Halwai strives to escape the Darkness and live in the Light, a goal he achieved and which is represented by the multiple chandeliers he has in his apartment in Bangalore.

There were many references to the caste system of India throughout The White Tiger, and since I didn’t know much about the caste system, I did some more research.  The caste system has held Indians within their rigid heirarchical groups for over 3000 years, preventing upward mobility, economic opportunities, and co-mingling of the groups.  India banned caste-based discrimination in their constitution, enacted quotas for hiring in 1950, and expanded those quotas to encompass more caste levels in 1989.  With the technology boom of the early 2000s resulting in the rise of call centers servicing American companies (most based in and around Bangalore), the caste system has become less adhered to by the younger generations.  It is still followed in the more rural areas of India and, as Adiga illustrates so well in The White Tiger, most people in the supposedly more progressive areas of the country, i.e., the large cities, still cling to the beliefs that the castes really do dictate intelligence level, abilities, and career paths, and discrimination on a personal level is still the norm.

The Orphan Master’s Son

As I read The White Tiger, I was continually reminded of one of our earlier novels, The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (another prize winning book).  I was struck by the similarities of the two main characters, Halwai and Pak Jun Do, and also by the similarities of Indian and Korean society.  Both Halwai and Pak Jun Do were nameless as infants and assigned names later in life.  “Jun Do” is the English equivalent to “John Doe” and Pak was a name from the list of 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution used for orphaned boys. Hulwai is called “Munna,” which means “boy,” until he goes to school, at which time his teacher calls him Balram Halwai.  Halwai is his caste level and it means “sweet-maker.”

In both books the authors make clear that there is no chance for the lower classes to achieve upward mobility or economic stability.  The masses are nothing more than glorified slaves and their continued existence is dictated solely by the whims of those above them, either the higher caste levels in India (the landlords, the wealthy) or by the government officials (both military and non-military) in Korea.  Most never think to question any order given by someone in a position of authority, never think to question their place in the societal hierarchy, let alone dare to think of being free;  economical freedom, intellectual freedom, social freedom – all are equally unattainable and therefore dangerous to consider.  If you step out of line, not only will you suffer potentially lethal consequences, but so will your immediate and quite possibly your extended family members. This makes it all the more astounding that both Halwai and Pak Jun Do do eventually attain economic success (Halwai) and/or freedom of thought and action (Pak Jun Do), although through unlawful means and at great personal costs.

Self-Examination

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is a disturbing read, as it is meant to be.  This is not a lighthearted romp, nor is Halwai a lovable rapscallion. As Adiga told in an interview with The GuardianThe White Tiger highlights inequities and indignities of Indian culture and spotlights the dark underbelly of India’s “economic miracle.”

“At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the west, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society. That’s what writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens did in the 19th century and, as a result, England and France are better societies. That’s what I’m trying to do – it’s not an attack on the country, it’s about the greater process of self-examination.”

I certainly didn’t enjoy reading The White Tiger, but it did cause me think about some things I had not considered before.  It led me to research the Man Booker Prize, the caste system, and the author himself.  It brought back memories of The Orphan Master’s Son, another disturbing and thought-provoking book.  If nothing else, this 100 Bestsellers Reading Challenge is stretching my brain and my horizons, and those are good things.

What about you?  Did you find The White Tiger to be a stretch from you normal reading choices?  Did you think it was a worthwhile read?

 

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 74. A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan (2000)- Discussion begins October 30, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The White Tiger

Let’s take a look at The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Balram Halwai writes about his rags to riches story as he leaves behind his impoverished Indian village to establish his own taxi business.

Note:  Although Aravind Adiga was only 33 when he published this debut novel, it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

Genre

This novel is an excellent example of picaresque fiction. 

A picaresque novel features a main character who is from a low social class and a bit of a rogue (the name comes from the Spanish word picaro for rogue or rascal). He gets by with his wits and often skirts the law or social conventions to achieve his goals. This novel follows the picaresque tradition because it is told in first person, and features plain, realistic language with elements of satire and dark comedy.

The White Tiger is also an epistolary novel. The text is a long letter written by the main character over a series of evenings.

Characters

Balram Halwai is the roguish main character. He grew up in a poor rural village in India. Using his cunning, he learns to drive and becomes a driver/servant for Mr. Ashok and his wife, Pinky Madam in Delhi. Although at first he follows the law, he doesn’t mind breaking with social conventions. For example, he refuses to send a portion of his wages back to his family as expected. Later we learn he is willing to break the law, too.

One feature of a picaresque novel is that the main character doesn’t have much of a character arc. Once a rogue, always a rogue. In this case Halwai’s circumstances change, but he still bends the rules as he sees fit.

Because it is written from Halwai’s perspective, women are kept in the background. Other than his employer’s wife, whom he calls Pinky Madam, the majority of female characters are either family members (who Halwai sees as impeding his progress), or prostitutes. Pinky Madam ends up leaving her husband and thus disappears from the story as well.

Setting

Setting is incredibly important in this novel. Each place Halawi lives in reflects a change in his social status. In general, he moves in a southerly direction, from the village of Laxmangarh in north India, to Delhi in the middle, and finally Bangalore in the south.

To Halwai, the rural village of his birth represents the “Darkness” of hopelessness, poverty, illness, and death. Delhi becomes a place of both “Darkness” and “Light,” as he learns about and tries out new roles. He ends up in Bangalore, where he starts a business and becomes one of the exploiters rather than one of the exploited.  He sees himself as someone “in the Light.”

 

white tiger
Public domain photo via Visualhunt.com

Symbolism/Themes

From the white tiger of the title to the Black Fort above his village, the story is full of symbols. Many are prominent during turning points in the main character’s life.

Near the village where Halwai grew up, there is a structure called the “Black Fort.” As a child he is drawn to it, but is also frightened of it. His mother had been fascinated by it as well,  prior to her death. Once he has the driving job,  Halwai is finally  brave enough to climb into the fort. Looking down upon his village he experiences a step out of the “Darkness.”

Halwai often refers to people as animals. In the beginning, those that exploit the villagers are given animals names. The Stork controls the river, the Wild Boar takes taxes for the agricultural lands, the Raven harasses the goatherds, and the Buffalo extorts those who used the roads (Halwai also resents the water buffalo which provided milk and income for his family).  He calls Mr. Ashok’s brother “Mongoose.”

In Delhi, Halwai calls the other working people the “Rooster Coop” because they fight with one another rather than helping each other out. Like roosters, they peck others to keep them in their place. Halwai refuses to participate and distances himself from them.

Throughout the book, Halwai envisions himself as a white tiger, which represents a rare sort of animal. When he sees a white tiger in a cage at the zoo, he decides he must break free of his life of servitude.

Discussion

Although clever in its construction, this novel leaves me flat.

The first problem is the lack of a character arc. When his circumstances change, Halwai doesn’t become a better person. Instead he becomes slicker and better at manipulating others. You want to root for him, but he is not likeable. Rarely do I want to rewrite a novel, but in this case I wish the main character had simply found a clever way to steal the money. Not as brutal an impact, but perhaps more reasonable for a human being who up to that point seemed like he obeyed the law?

The epistolary format also doesn’t help. Writing the story as a letter in the first person limits how much the reader can see of a character’s world. For example, when he and his brother take their dying father to a hospital and there’s no doctor (because of corruption), we don’t get a clear picture of the emotional impact this has before Halwai is off onto another topic.

Although it is probably peevish on my part, including dialogue in the text that is supposed to be a letter seems jarring and artificial. Who writes dialogue in a letter, even a fake one? Yes, it wouldn’t have worked any other way, but it still annoyed me.

For many, The White Tiger has been highly acclaimed. People have applauded its originality and fresh voice, as well as its setting. It is fast paced and filled with dark humor.  In a lot of ways this novel is as rare as the animal in the title.

Have you read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 74. A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan (2000)- Discussion begins October 30, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

It is time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: An example of an epistolary novel, main character Balram Halwai writes about his rags to riches story as he leaves behind his impoverished Indian village to establish his own taxi business.

Although Aravind Adiga was only 33 when he published this debut novel, it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.


Have you read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? Feel free to add a link to your review here.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 74. A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan (2000)- Discussion begins October 30, 2017

#BookBeginnings The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

This week we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  An example of an epistolary novel,  main character Balram Halwai writes about his rags to riches story as he leaves behind his impoverished Indian village to establish his own taxi business.

Although Aravind Adiga was only 33 when he published this debut novel, it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

Beginning:

For the Desk of:
His Excellency Wen Jiabao
The Premier’s Office
Beijing
Capital of the Freedom-loving Nation of China

From the Desk of:
“The White Tiger”
A Thinking Man
And an Entrepreneur
Living in the world’s center of Technology and Outsourcing
Electronics City Phase I (just off Hosur Main Road)
Bangalore, India

Mr. Premier,

Sir.
Neither you not I speak English, but there are some things that can only be said in English.

Discussion:

The beginning is a bit unusual because he starts right out with a letter. I already detect a bit of humor, especially in that last sentence. I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

What do you think? Have you read The White Tiger?

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