The White Tiger

The White Tiger

by Aravind Adiga
Published by Free Press in 2008
Genres: Fiction, Cultural, India
Pages: 276
Goodreads

As I explained in my video announcing the titles I was going to read in November 2017, my awesome public library has been organizing something great this year: a winter challenge, where the staff picks a title for you!
I was totally excited like a kid under the Christmas tree when I went to pick up my mystery title. It ended up being The White Tiger, by an author I had never heard of – though I realized later his latest book is featured among the 100 best books of 2017 according to the New York Times review of Books.
To be honest with you, this is definitely a book I would never have chosen by myself: the few times I have tried to read books about India, I found them good, but rather depressing, so I try to stay away from them now.
But isn’t a reading challenge supposed to invite you away from your comfort zone? So, well done and thanks to the staff member who picked it up for me!

The White Tiger does fit in the line of depressing books of India I have experienced before! To tell the truth, it may even be more depressing, as the author uses a style of satire and black humor to describe the conditions of his own country!

Balram, aka The White Tiger (why so is explained on page 30), is a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore, India. The Chinese Premier’s is supposed to come and visit India to meet such entrepreneurs. So Balram decides to write to him a letter or journal in 7 episodes to tell him about his country and his people, by describing his own personal story and his journey from poverty, to crime, to success.

The future of the world lies with the yellow man and the brown man now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, cell phone usage, and drug abuse.
p.4

We learn fairly quickly that Balram is indeed wanted for stealing, and more, so he starts by using elements of his WANTED posted to retell the story of his life, and how he developed his own education.

The quotations I chose here give a good idea of the satire and humor used towards his own country and foreigners as well.
We learn about life conditions in poor villages as well as in big cities, and about the socio-political situation.

To sum up — in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat — or get eaten up.
p.54

These are the three main diseases of this country, sir: typhoid, cholera, and election fever. This last one is the worst; it makes people talk and talk about things that they have no say in.
p. 82 

The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor — they never overlap, do they? See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of? Losing weight and looking like the poor.
p. 191

His passages to describe “the perpetual servitude of the 99.9%” were quite powerful.

One the main points developed all along the book is of course corruption, at all levels. Among the rich, but also among the poor, or those who, like Balram, manage to climb the ladder.
And so behind the satire and humor are raised very dense and complex moral issues: is all corruption bad? Should be it understood and forgiven coming from those who want to take revenge against the way they have been enslaved by others? And when they manage to get a bit above the mire, how will they themselves behave towards those lower than themselves? Can they really rise above the lot and break the vicious circle? Or is corruption so ingrained in the system, in human nature maybe even, that they will inevitable replicate to others the treatment they received?

Even though the author does not mention this, when I was reading this book, I was thinking about our human condition, and how we need the intervention of Christ to get out of the circle of evil. By ourselves, we can’t.

And so it’s interesting to see how Balram has evolved in his social status and how in parallel this may or may not reflect in his moral behavior towards others. If you have read the book, I would be interested in what you think about him at the end of the book. Has he become a better person?

VERDICT: A witty and satirical presentation of India that raises complex moral issues.

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