White Tiger by Indian writer Aravind Adiga

Winning the Man Booker prize is something that most authors dream of, although not generally with their first novel. Mirroring India’s rise as a global economy, the novel takes the form of a series of letters written late at night by Balram Halwai, the protagonist, to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, on the eve of his visit to India. In the letters, Balram describes his rise from lowly origins to his current position as an entrepreneur in Bangalore, as well as his views on India’s caste system and its political corruption. A dazzling satirical novel, whose characterisation of India’s areas of rural poverty as ‘the darkness’ will no doubt enter common parlance.

Visit Aravind Adiga’s homepage here.

From the Reviews

    “As Balram’s education expands, he grows more corrupt. Yet the reader’s sympathy for the former teaboy never flags. In creating a character who is both witty and psychopathic, Mr Adiga has produced a hero almost as memorable as Pip, proving himself the Charles Dickens of the call-centre generation.” – The Economist

    “Balram’s violent bid for freedom is shocking. What, we’re left to ask, does it make him — just another thug in India’s urban jungle or a revolutionary and idealist ? It’s a sign of this book’s quality, as well as of its moral seriousness, that it keeps you guessing to the final page and beyond.” – Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

    “With strong, sympathetic characters, a swell of political unrest and an entertaining plot, the book rattles along at top speed under Balram’s chirpy navigation.” – James Urquhart, Financial Times

    “(A)s a debut, it marks the arrival of a storyteller who strikes a fine balance between the sociology of the wretched place he has chosen as home and the twisted humanism of the outcast. With detached, scatological precision, he surveys the grey remoteness of an India where the dispossessed and the privileged are not steeped in the stereotypes of struggle and domination. The ruthlessness of power and survival assumes a million moral ambiguities in this novel powered by an India where Bangalore is built on Bihar.” – S. Prasannarajan, India Today

    “Aravind Adiga’s riveting, razor-sharp debut novel explores with wit and insight the realities of these two Indias, and reveals what happens when the inhabitants of one collude and then collide with those of the other. (…) The pace, superbly controlled in the opening and middle sections, begins to flag a bit towards the end. But this is a minor quibble: Adiga has been gutsy in tackling a complex and urgent subject. His is a novel that has come not a moment too soon.” – Soumya Bhattacharya, The Independent

    “It’s a thrilling ride through a rising global power (…..) Adiga’s plot is somewhat predictable — the murder that is committed is the one that readers will expect throughout — but The White Tiger suffers little for this fault. Caught up in Balram’s world — and his wonderful turn of phrase — the pages turn themselves. Brimming with idiosyncrasy, sarcastic, cunning, and often hilarious, Balram is reminiscent of the endless talkers that populate the novels of the great Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal.” – David Mattin, Independent on Sunday

    “We can’t hear Balram Halwai’s voice here, because the author seems to have no access to it. The novel has its share of anger at the injustices of the new, globalised India, and it’s good to hear this among the growing chorus of celebratory voices. But its central character comes across as a cardboard cut-out. The paradox is that for many of this novel’s readers, this lack of verisimilitude will not matter because for them India is and will remain an exotic place. This book adds another brick to the patronising edifice it wants to tear down.” – Sanjay Subrahmanyam, London Review of Books

    “The novel’s framing as a seven-part letter to the Chinese prime minister turns out to be an unexpectedly flexible instrument in Adiga’s hands, accommodating everything from the helpful explanatory aside to digressions into political polemic. (…) One might note the distinctive narrative voice, rich with the disconcerting smell of coarse authenticity. It is simultaneously able to convey the seemingly congenital servility of the language of the rural poor as well as its potential for knowing subversion. It sends up the neo-Thatcherite vocabulary of the new rich, their absurd extravagance and gaudy taste, but manages to do it tenderly and with understanding. (…) Adiga’s style calls to mind the work of Munshi Premchand, that great Hindi prose stylist and chronicler of the nationalist movement” – Nakul Krishna, New Statesman

    “Adiga’s message isn’t subtle or novel, but Balram’s appealingly sardonic voice and acute observations of the social order are both winning and unsettling.” – The New Yorker

    “(A)t once a fascinating glimpse beneath the surface of an Indian economic “miracle,” a heart-stopping psychological tale of a premeditated murder and its aftermath, and a meticulously conceived allegory of the creative destruction that’s driving globalization. (…) That may sound like a lot to take in, but The White Tiger is unpretentious and compulsively readable to boot.” – Scott Medintz, The New York Sun

    “In bare, unsentimental prose, he strips away the sheen of a self-congratulatory nation and reveals instead a country where the social compact is being stretched to the breaking point. There is much talk in this novel of revolution and insurrection: Balram even justifies his employer’s murder as an act of class warfare. The White Tiger is a penetrating piece of social commentary, attuned to the inequalities that persist despite India’s new prosperity. It correctly identifies — and deflates — middle-class India’s collective euphoria. But Adiga, a former correspondent for Time magazine who lives in Mumbai, is less successful as a novelist.” – Akash Kapur, The New York Times Book Review

    “His voice is engaging — caustic and funny, describing the many injustices of modern Indian society with well-balanced humour and fury. But there’s little new here — the blurbs claim it’s redressing the misguided and romantic Western view of India — but I suspect there are few to whom India’s corruption will come as a surprise. As social commentary, it’s disappointing, although as a novel it’s good fun.” – Francesca Segal, The Observer

    “Adiga’s training as a journalist lends the immediacy of breaking news to his writing, but it is his richly detailed storytelling that will captivate his audience. (…) The White Tiger contains passages of startling beauty (…). Adiga never lets the precision of his language overshadow the realities at hand: No matter how potent his language one never loses sight of the men and women fighting impossible odds to survive. (…) The White Tiger succeeds as a book that carefully balances fable and pure observation.” – Lee Thomas, San Francisco Chronicle

    “Adiga is a real writer — that is to say, someone who forges an original voice and vision.” – Adam Lively, Sunday Times

    “What Adiga lifts the lid on is also inexorably true: not a single detail in this novel rings false or feels confected. The White Tiger is an excoriating piece of work, stripping away the veneer of ‘India Rising’. That it also manages to be suffused with mordant wit, modulating to clear-eyed pathos, means Adiga is going places as a writer.” – Neel Mukherjee, The Telegraph

    “It is certain of its mission, and pursues it with an undeviating determination you wouldn’t expect in a first novel. It reads at a tremendous clip. Its caricatures are sharply and confidently drawn. It is full of barbed wit, if not — and not trying to be, so far as I can tell — actually funny. It won’t win any prizes for subtlety. But it hasn’t been nominated for one of those.” – Peter Robins, The Telegraph

    “Balram’s cynical, gleeful voice captures modern India: no nostalgic lyricism here, only exuberant reality.” – Kate Saunders, The Times

    “The White Tiger resembles the stories in Murder Weekly. It is quick, entertaining and full of vividly drawn types: the scheming servant, the corrupt businessman, the spoilt wife. Its lack of subtlety can be wearying, as can its cynicism. But it is a useful counter to optimistic tales of India’s roaring economy.” – Sameer Rahim, Times Literary Supplement

    “Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in decades. No hyperbole. This debut novel from an Indian journalist living in Mumbai hit me like a kick to the head (…..) This is an amazing and angry novel about injustice and power” – Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

    “Does The White Tiger live up to its own ambitions ? Sort of. There comes a moment in this book where the narrative has a real chance to leave behind the pop and fluff of The Nanny Diaries irony and achieve a deep Orwellian insight. (…) Yes, it’s fresh, funny, different, and it will please those looking for insights into contemporary India, but The White Tiger offers something less than it might have achieved.” – Tony D’Souza, The Washington Post

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