The White Tiger: A Novel

by Aravind Adiga

Paperback, 2008

Status

Available

Publication

Free Press (2008), 304 pages

Description

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life--having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

User reviews

LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
Balram is a man of Darkness or lower caste in Indian society. His life’s mission is to move up India’s hierarchy of status and power. Finagling his way into becoming a driver for the son of a well-known politician, Balram eventually ends up living in Dehli. Along the way, he introduces us, through wickedly funny storytelling, to an India of filth, inequity, greed, corruption, and insensitivity.

This novel starts off as a letter from Balram to the Premier of China explaining how he reached his present position. Of course, we the readers are taken along on this adventure being narrated by Balram. It’s a joyful ride, though, as his way of expressing himself is forthright and deeply entertaining, although one needs to tread a bit lightly while reading so as not to take offense.

I can detect much love by the author for India in his writing. By bringing some of his native country’s more pervasive problems to the forefront, perhaps he is also sending out a plea for attention and possible resolution to at least some more troublesome ongoing issues. Despite the author's fairly blatant message, his story is powerful in its own right because of his independent-minded, saucy protagonist and descriptive writing. I heartily endorse this book for anyone who enjoys reading about India or works of fiction by Indian authors.
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LibraryThing member bohemima
Balram Halwai rises from truly abject poverty to be a driver and general servant to a very wealthy man. He desperately wants to escape from this prison of servitude, but doesn't quite see how to manage it. After years of observing the actions of his "betters", he learns how to effect his escape, and becomes an entrepreneur.

Adiga brings the contradictions of Indian society to vivid life. Although there's a lot of anger in this book, there's also compassion for the Indians trapped by their society and government, no matter what their level of of wealth or social status. An amazing plus to this sad story is that it's also full of humor, some of it laugh-out-loud funny.

I loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone.
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LibraryThing member Ireadthereforeiam
This is the story of a man from a poor Indian village who goes against what is expected of him, in some pretty big ways. He narrates the story of his life in letter form, to a dignitary who has asked for the story of some local Bangalorian entrepreneurs (this is all revealed in the first 2 pages, so no spoilers there).

The story is told in a very flippant way, but what transpires is a fairly dark story of poverty and the ingrained injustices that make up the lives of millions of rural poor people. Our 'hero' is weighing up his duty to remain in his place as a poorly paid worker with a master, and his need to fight his way out of that very cage. His self-proclaimed status as a successful entrepreneur tells us early on that something has happened that has enabled him to break free, and the story of his life pads out this big break for freedom.

Criticisms? The light hearted telling of the story doesn't mirror the intensity of the events, so it is hard to take it all seriously. I guess this was meant to add to the darkness of the tale. But it distracted me. Also, this book confirmed my fears that Indian society if rife with corruption, and it seems that fair and just people will get nowhere. I found this sad. 3.5 stars
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LibraryThing member brenzi
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga tells the story of one’s man’s life dealing with the injustice of the caste system in India and of how he escaped and became an entrepreneurial success. This is not an uplifting story. I was not left with a feeling of hope even though the way in which the story was told was light and humorous.

An Indian entrepreneur, Valram Halwai, tells the story through a letter that he writes to the Chinese Premier who is slated to visit and has suggested he would like to speak to an Indian entrepreneur because China does not have any at this point. This is pointed out on page 2:

“Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, DOES have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them. Especially in the field of technology.”

This sets the stage for the book and introduces one of the main themes, which is the lack of basic necessities in India and this leads into the book’s major premise, India’s caste system and the world of difference between the haves and have nots, “The Light and The Dark”.

Valram is born into a very poor family. His father is a rickshaw driver, his family lives in a shack and they have absolutely nothing. He has a couple of years of school but it becomes apparent that he needs to go to work to help support the family. His caste is meant to be producers of sweets so his grandmother determines he should work in the tea shop. However, Valram sets his sights much higher. He wants to be a driver for the wealthy and that is how he ends up working for Mr. Ashok, his wife Pinky Madam, his father The Stork and his brother Mukesh. This is where Valram learns the lessons of life that determine the course he eventually follows.

Examples of the sad state of affairs in India today are prevalent throughout the book:
1. Government officials and politicians must be paid off by businessmen in order for commerce to take place
2. Those stuck at the bottom layers of the caste system seldom escape from it and are actually held down by others who are in the same strata
3. Corruption among the police is widespread
4. Although his boss complains that because of Halram’s limited education, “he probably has what…two, three years of schooling in him? He can read and write, but he doesn’t get what he’s read. He’s half-baked. The country is full of people like him, I’ll tell you that. And we entrust our glorious parliamentary democracy to characters like these.” (page 8) Yet the fingerprints of the illiterate are taken from them to use on ballots at election time and they never actually get to vote themselves.
5. The “servants” of the rich are treated with disdain and are not able to maintain their dignity

Valram finally decides that there is only one way for him to escape his circumstances and therein lies the crux of the situation. The reader must decide if he was justified in doing what he had to do to escape. The author provides a lot of opportunities for moral lessons but leaves the reader holding the bag. Cynical, irreverent and very, very funny. 2008 Man Booker Prize Winner. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member SamuelW
Perhaps you've heard it said that India is the world's next superpower: a nation of economic and technological progress that will soon succeed Western countries on the world stage. If so, Aravind Adiga's debut novel The White Tiger might make you think twice. Winner of the Booker Prize in 2008, this novel is a vicious, literary exposé of the delusion of 'progress' in modern India. Our narrator, Balram, splits the country into two halves: an 'India of Darkness' and an 'India of Light'. While Adiga's evocation of the poverty in the former is brutally vivid, it is his portrayal of the latter that will really grab his readers' attention. The India of his novel is a society that functions with mechanical amorality, where rich and poor alike are so habituated to the dog-eat-dog corruption that nobody thinks to question the status quo.

For all its atmospheric bustle, the novel is filled with the empty promise of change; a feeling that our narrator only partially acknowledges. Having titled himself 'The White Tiger', he views his own rise to the top of the food chain with a satisfaction that Adiga quietly subverts. As the wheels of this society continue their foul cycles – crime, poverty, betrayal – the reader comes to realise that its progress is not progress at all, and that the jungle will always be just that: a jungle.

As engaging as the subject matter is, it is Balram's narration above all that gives this study of modern India its twisted charisma. His straight-to-the-bone comments about everything from religion to democracy to the behaviour of Westerners will elicit wry smiles from the toughest of readers. Somehow, these 'life lessons' manage to be amusingly oversimplified and remarkably incisive at the same time. Whether you love him or hate him – or an indecisive mix of the two, as is more probable – the way Balram keeps the novel speeding along is difficult to resist.

Eye-opening on so many levels, The White Tiger is literature as it should be: topical, memorable and completely readable. Adiga's densely packed portrait of Indian society unravels in the mind for days afterwards. If it is half the country he paints it to be, urgent intervention is definitely called for.
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
I came to reading The White Tiger a few weeks after it recieved the Man Booker win. It is the story of Balram, the son of a rickshaw puller who is hired as a chaffeur for a wealthy landlord.
Darkly comic his story is told in a series of letters to the Premier of China about his transformation from a hardworking boy in rural India until a time when his rage reaches boiling point where he commits an act of revenge and then his personal luck and fortune improve dramatically.
Insightful as to the social and economic inequalities of contemporary India.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This was a fast-paced, engaging novel told from the perspective of a member of the servant caste in India. The novel is framed as a letter to the Premier of China who is apparently visiting India soon. Munna tells his story as a way of educating the Premier about the "real" India. The novel depicts some fairly vile aspects of human interactions, stripping away social niceties and appearances to expose base human desires - physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional. Yet, the tone is light and the protagonist/storyteller is oddly appealing. He's not a nice man, but then, neither are his circumstances and, frankly, there aren't many people in the book I want to hang out with. I'm having trouble thinking of even one. But that's the point: everyone in this novel is ultimately corrupt. I also find myself reflecting on the author's exploration of interlocking oppressions - those who are oppressed try to oppress another. I think Adiga very successfully navigated this "dark" side of human nature and human desire.

Still, I really enjoyed the book and I agree with other reviewers who have noted that it has more layers and more complexity than the tone would suggest. As a reader, I found myself questioning the "veracity" of the narrator's story and that was part of the fun -- trying to figure out his motivation(s) given the frame of the letter he's writing.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Balram Halwai is the mocking, pathological narrator of Aravind Adiga’s Booker winning novel The White Tiger. Born in the Darkness - the underbelly of India - and destined from childhood to be a servant, he tells his story in a series of letters over a seven day period to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China. A self-described entrepreneur and philosopher, Balram explains how he has come to see himself as a white tiger.

The inspector pointed his cane straight at me. “You, young man, are an intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow in this crowd of thugs and idiots. In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals - the creature that comes along only once in a generation?”

I thought about it and said:

“The white tiger.”

“That’s what you are, in this jungle.”


- from The White Tiger, page 30 -

It is this inner view of himself - a rare creature in a savage world - which drives him eventually to murder his master and take charge of his life.

,i>Even as a boy I could see what was beautiful in the world: I was destined not to stay a slave. - from The White Tiger, page 35 -

Adiga has created a not wholly likeable protagonist to narrate the story of an India which is sharply divided between the very rich (and corrupt) and the very poor. The cynical voice of Balram jeers at democracy and uncovers the dark, corrupt world of the wealthy upper class. He pokes fun at China who despite their triumphs ‘in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy.‘

Adiga uses an analogy of roosters in the coop to describe the servant’s (or poor man’s) inescapable status in India.

They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. - from The White Tiger, page 147 -

But for Balram, there is a way out - one of his own making. He resists the pull of family obligation and loyalty to his master and plans his escape through cold-blooded murder.

[...] only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed - hunted, beaten, and burned alive by the masters - can break out of the coop. - from The White Tiger, page 150 -

Rage is what fuels Balram to break free of his caste and become a successful businessman. He takes his destiny into his own hands and does what he feels he must to become a free man. And in the end, he concludes there is really no difference between a man and a demon - only that one has woken up and the other is still sleeping. The message seems to be that there is no good anywhere in India. It is no wonder that Indians have been critical of this novel.

The White Tiger is an interesting story - one that is compelling and blackly humorous despite its negative message. It is a scathing commentary on the divide between the poor and the rich, the benevolent and the corrupt - but, it is ultimately just a very good yarn.

Recommended.
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LibraryThing member preetalina
This book was ridiculous! And I mean that in all sorts of positive ways. Basically it hits you upside the head with zingers that make you laugh and feel depressed at the same time. As I went along, I read some of my favorites to my husband who, after a while, got depressed just from hearing the quotes. My favorite, the one that snuck up on me was:

"Go to the tea shop anywhere along the Ganga, sir, and look at the men working in that tea shop - men, I say, but better to call them human spiders that go crawling in between and under the tables with rags in their hands, crushed humans in crushed uniforms, sluggish, unshaven, in their thirties or forties or fifties but still "boys." But that is your fate if you do your job well - with honesty, dedication, and sincerity, the way Gandhi would have done it, no doubt." (p43)

Ouch!

If you are from India, grew up there, were born there, or even know a thing or two about life there, this book will definitely make you feel guilty. (I was born there but moved to the US when I was 2, but I do try to keep abreast of what's happening there, and I have family there as well, who fall anywhere from the lower middle to middle class range - no one is poor.)

I'm really finding it hard to put to words how this book affected me. It was like seeing both sides of the coin - the book is told from the viewpoint of a poor, lower class driver (aka servant) and what he goes through. And he's one that ends up doing better than most!

I think what I feel is sort of equivalent to "white guilt" but in this case it would be "upper class" or "higher caste guilt." I've always been highly sympathetic to the plight of poor people in India - the division between the poor and the middle class is huge and grows larger every day. Whenever I go there, I'm so uncomfortable with the "servants" and in general, waiters, drivers, anyone who is in a service industry, because they are, in essence, servants and they definitely act (at least in front of your face) like you are higher than them, better than them. But what do you do in these situations?

I'm totally going off topic here but I remember when I was younger and my family and I were visiting India. I was with my mom and she saw a guy on the street selling some trinkets, one in particular was a sort of wind chime thing made of shells. He was selling it for 100 rupees. If you're familiar with India, you know that you bargain for practically everything. So my mom was trying to bargain him down and wouldn't go past 50 rupees. He kept trying to convince her, saying things like how would he feed his family, etc, but finally ended up selling it to her for 50 rupees. After we left the area, I made my mom feel SO guilty for not giving him the full amount (it was maybe $3 US at the time) that she went back and tried to find him, but he was gone. She still remembers the incident.

So what's the point? I guess... Well, my mom's family would probably be lower-middle class in India (and she could have more than afforded to spend $3 US) yet she would still do this kind of thing - there are always divisions no matter how high or low your class is.

I might have more to say later, but I'm not sure if what I've said thus far was coherent. Either way, this is a highly recommended book. I'm definitely planning on reading Aravind Adiga's other works.

To end, a couple more of my favorite quotes:

Now there are some, and I don't just mean Communists like you, but thinking men of all political parties, who think that not many of these gods actually exist. Some believe that none of them exist. There's just us and an ocean of darkness around us. I'm no philosopher or poet, how would I know the truth? It's true that all these gods seem to do awfully little work - much like our politicians - and yet keep winning reelection to their golden thrones in heaven, year after year. That's not to say I don't respect them, Mr. Premier! Don't you ever let that blasphemous idea into your yellow skull. My country is the kind where it pays to play it both ways: the Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, at the same time. (p6)

One fact about India is that you can take almost anything you hear about the country from the prime minister and turn it upside down and then you will have the truth about that thing. (p12)

Do you know about Hanuman, sir? He was the faithful servant of the god Rama, and we worship him in our temples because he is a shining example of how to serve your masters with absolute fidelity, love, and devotion.
These are the kinds of gods they have foisted on us Mr. Jiabao. Understand, now, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in India. (p16)

Strange thoughts brew in your heart when you spend too much time with old books. (p218)

There are probably a bunch I missed, because I got so engrossed in the book at one point. I finished it in less than 24 hours, which rarely happens these days.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
This is not a novel; it is a diatribe against corruption In India and the oppression of the rich by the poor and by the poor themselves that is thinly disguised as a novel. The is no plot--there is just Adiga’s agenda.

So, we learn that Indian politicians are corrupt, that votes are sold, that the police are corrupt, that the rich "eat" the poor and the poor cooperate in their own oppression. Now you know it all. No need to read the book.

If you want to read about these issues and actually have a story line to follow with interesting characters (at least some of them), I suggest Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. Much more interesting.

How this won the Man Booker Prize--I assume for fiction--is beyond me.

Avoid.
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LibraryThing member thorold
Aravind Adiga would probably have got on well with Defoe and Swift - this is a rollicking low-life story in the best 18th century tradition, complete with heavy-duty social satire. It's fun to read, there's plenty of satisfying squalor and a fairy-tale happy ending, and it's as also unapologetically one-sided as anything Swift ever did. But you have to take the message with a pinch of chilli powder.… (more)
LibraryThing member Ruby_Barnes
Less of a tiger more of a weasel.

It's a mystery to me how this book was winner of the 2008 Man Booker prize. I struggled through the first 100 pages, mainly because of the awkward premise that the first person narrator style was in a letter to the Chinese premier before his impending visit to India. The main character is despicable, as are all the characters in this indictment of Indian society. By the end of the book I was gripped by the corruption of India and the untrustworthiness of almost every individual appearing in the story. That is to say that the subject matter of a society alien to Westerners remains interesting and it is well written. Where it fails compared to Q&A or Colours of the Mountain is that the pretext for telling the story is flimsy and the general plot inconclusive. There must be a million tales like this out there.… (more)
LibraryThing member CBJames
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is not an easy book. It's not difficult to read, the pages go by at a pretty quick pace, but the experience left me feeling uneasy. That's what this kind of dark satire is supposed to do.

Belram Halwi, The White Tiger, tells the story of his rise to power in a series of letters to the premier of China, Wen Jaibao, who is visiting India to see its economic success first hand. Belram is Horatio Alger's darker brother; the story of his rise from lowly laborer, that of a coffee pourer in a cafe, to private driver for a weathly businessman, to the owner of a prosperous taxicab company, could have been an example for all young people to follow. Work hard. Obey your elders. Be loyal to your bosses. You will be rewarded with success. Belram worked hard. He obeyed his elders. He was loyal to his bosses. Then he murdered one of them, stole his money, set himself up in business and became rich. Not a lesson Horatio Alger would have approved.

Mr. Adiga is clearly not out to praise India's success story. It is clear to Belram, and soon evident to the reader, that Indian society is designed to keep him down, to make sure the servant class stays in its place. Religion, family, democracy, all come under Mr. Adiga's critical and satirical gaze. No stone is left un-thrown, and there a plenty of stones to throw. While there are laughs to be found in The White Tiger, this is not Jhumpa Lahiri's India. There's nothing in The White Tiger that the tourist board will brag about: no beautiful scenery, no delicious food, no colorfully dressed people, no high-tech wonders to behold.
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LibraryThing member whjensen
A Man-Booker Prize nominated book by Aravind Adiga.
"They remain slaves because they can't see what is beautiful in this world"
-The Poet Iqbal, as quoted by Balram, the protagonist of the book.

To read this book is to leave with the impression that India is a mess. It is 99% of the 2nd most populous nation on Earth being kept in chains of servitude by themselves. Adiga has written a compelling first novel on the liberation of a man born to be a servant of the rich. It describes the way that Balram, a boy born in the Darkness - small villages away from the coast, is sold into indentured servitude to pay off the dowry debts associated with marrying of a daughter. Balram, told by a school inspector that he is a White Tiger - something born once a generation, rises through sheer ambition to become a driver for a local landlord. Through his cunning, he is brought to Delhi to serve as driver for Ashok - the son of the landlord.

As a driver, he begins to understand the relation between master and servant in his culture. The servant is nothing more than a throwaway item to be used and discarded.

A pivotal moment of the book occurs when Ashok's wife demands to drive after a wild night out with her husband. On the way home, she hits and kills a young child. No one saw the accident. Yet, to be safe, the landlord's family arranges for Balram to confess to the hit-and-run accident. It is a source of pride for Balram's family - that he would do this for the master!

From this point, Balram begins a series of rebellions leading up to the murder of Ashok and the theft of millions of rupees. This is not a vicious murder of a hated landlord. Rather, it is an amoral killing of the system that Ashok represents. It is the death of the old system. Yet the old system did not know it was dying. Balram runs away to the southern coast - to Bangalore, the tech capital - and sets up a taxi system for tech companies with the help of bribery of the police. When one of his drivers accidentally kills someone, he uses his connections in the police to sweep it under the rug. He protects his driver. Yet he insists on going to the family's house, paying his respects, giving them thousands of rupees, and hiring the killed boy's brother. The system is not dead, yet Adiga suggests it is changing as the few servants who free themselves change it from within.

This is not what westerners would call a morality story in the Western sense. There is a man willing to kill to get ahead. This is a man held up as honorable. The beauty of Adiga's writing is it opens a window into the culture that lets you root for Balram, hold him as honorable, even as he does dishonorable things.

Good read.
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LibraryThing member edgeworth
After reading some recent Booker prize winners that were good but not great (The Blind Assassin, True History of the Kelly Gang) - not to mention some Indian novels that I quite disliked (Midnight's Children, Kim) - it was a pleasure to read one that I can say is a really, really great book. Narrated by the self-styled White Tiger, Balram Halwai, in a letter he is composing to the Premier of China, The White Tiger details the story of his life and his rise from poverty to wealth.

Balram is, he proudly tells the Premier, one of India's great new entrepreneurs - a man born into crushing poverty who succeeded against all odds and now runs a company in Bangalore. He is only half-educated, and has some strange ideas, but on the whole he seems witty and well-spoken and deserving of his place among India's new upper class. Until he admits that he is a murderer.

In its early chapters - even with the admission of murder - The White Tiger seems to be a typical Indian rags-to-riches story, similar to "Slumdog Millionaire." The bulk of the novel, however, concerns a fairly limited time and place - Balram's employment as the driver for wealthy young Mr. Ashok, over a span of less than a year in New Dehli. We know to begin with that Balram is fated to kill Mr. Ashok, yet we do not yet know why. The little steps taken towards this event - the way Balram gradually becomes aware of the utter injustice of his station in life - is one of the best character development arcs I have ever read.

Balram is fated to be a servant, one of the perpetual have-nots born in a village at the edge of the Ganges. He is lucky enough to learn how to drive a car and land a job working for Mr. Ashok's family, who own most of the land around his village and eventually take Balram with them when they move to New Dehli. Balram is at first delighted by his luck, because this is as high a position as he ever could have dreamed of when he was a poor dirt farmer. Yet he slowly begins to realise that this once coveted occupation is nothing compared to what some have - compared, in fact, to what his masters have. He works harder than they do, suffers more than they do, yet will never have anything to show for it. He lives in filth and poverty and misery, while his rich, corpulent employers want for nothing. He begins to find himself disgusted with his fellow servants, with how they are satisifed with their lives, simply because they cannot imagine anything better - even though it is right in front of their noses. Mr. Ashok is kind and friendly - having been to America, he has egalitarian Western ideas and takes some interest in Balram's life. Yet his words never amount to actions, and Balram struggles with the servant/master dynamic - feeling like a valued member of the family, but more like a dog than a son.

The injustice of the divide between rich and poor is hardly a ground-breaking concept, but it's one that has bothered me greatly since I travelled through Asia last year and was daily exposed to abject poverty while I was withdrawing hundreds of dollars every time I went to an ATM. In clear, simple prose, Adiga addresses this subject in an original and unpretentious manner. By the end of the novel, Balram is a character who has murdered an innocent man in cold blood. Yet the reader is wholly sympathetic with him (or at least, I was). Was it fair to kill Mr. Ashok? No. But is it fair for hundreds of millions of people to live in abysmal poverty, under a corrupt system designed to keep them downtrodden, powerless and miserable forever? For the same reasons I found it hard to get angry at the persistent touts and beggars and scam artists and even thieves that I came across in Asia, I found it very easy to agree with Balram's justifications for murder.

Is Balram a good man? Perhaps not, but he is not a bad man either. The response I eventually felt towards Asia's endless poverty was powerless resignation - I became well aware that my own first-world life exists at the pinnacle of a pyramid of misery, but I have no idea how to effect any kind of change, and ultimately I am, like Henry Goose, simply merciful that my maker cast me on the winning side. Who among us truly knows what horrible things we would be capable of doing to escape Balram's fate?

Who among us has the right to judge him?
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I ended up enjoying this odd little tale quite a bit. I think for a reader to fall for it, you have to like the protagonist, Balram. I really did. He's a character of great fiction, kind, hateful, confused and steadfast, all in one body. He is a fascinating character who shows us a new India (juxtaposed to the old) that seems a bit different than the traditional caste view we usually see. In this book, the poor really can rise out of poverty, entrepeneurs as he describes himself. That said, to rise out of poverty comes with and for a hefty price. Balram commits some horrific acts, yet finds a way to justitfy much of it and get away with it. He never once flinches from reality and just admits that some people can, and do, get away with murder ~ as long as they know how to play the game. I'm not sure how accurrate it is, but this is an interesting view of Dehli, Bangalore and village life in India. I am not sure I learned all that much useful, but this was a very entertaining, easy read. My only complaints are that the form of writing to China's prime minister is a bit goofy; and the writing is pretty sophmoric at times. However, I figure some of that adds credibility to the narrarator.… (more)
LibraryThing member LynnB
This novel takes the form of a series of letters from "The White Tiger", Balram Halwai, to a Chinese dignatory about to visit Bangalore where Balram is a successful entrepreneur. The format doesn't detract from the fast-moving plot -- I often forgot completely about the faceless Wen Jiabao -- except when he was mentioned again. Mr. Jiabao is a representative for all of the readers who need to have Balram's story explained to them.

This novel presents a low-caste, servant's perspective on class and society in India. Balram is a driver for a coal entrepreneur, Mr. Ashok. In cynical, unromanticized and sometimes humorous prose, the author describes the life of the servant class and their masters.

At the beginning of the novel, we are told that Balram's rise from abject poverty and servitude to riches and success as a businessman are the result of his killing his master. We later learn that his success is also a product of abandoning his family and bribing the police. He is Horatio Alger's worst nightmare!

Balram, like all the other characters, are complex and not easy to like. They are very real people, and that is what drew me deep into this amazing story.
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LibraryThing member icolford
The white tiger is the rarest of beasts, and that is how Balram Halwai regards himself. Raised by his tradition-bound family for a life of docile servitude, Munna (which means "boy"), as he is dubbed by his parents (in school he is randomly given the name Balram as a matter of convenience), grows up in undistinguished poverty in the Darkness--the poor part of India--which exists in perpetual enslavement to the Light--the wealthy part of India. But Balram is different, because he is unable to accept that serving the needs of a master is the only option that life holds out to him. After much scheming and sacrifice Balram achieves the success he covets, but success comes at huge cost, as we learn in his boisterous, high-octane narrative. The novel is framed as a letter that Balram is writing to the Premier of China, who is about to embark on a diplomatic mission to India in order to strengthen economic ties between the two nations. Balram wants the Chinese premier to know exactly what challenges he faces when doing business with his country, and his confessional narrative spares himself and India nothing. This is a country that depends for its survival on the vast majority remaining ignorant and impoverished, in order to provide an infinite supply of cheap labour for the rich minority. Corruption is endemic--no level of government can function without it. But Aravind Adiga's hero is smart enough to know that he cannot change anything. Balram learns that the trick to success is to become part of the system and turn it to his advantage, and to do this one must be ruthless and unsentimental. This is India as westerners rarely see it in fiction. In Balram's world there are no budding romances, no pretty faces warmed by the evening sun. In The White Tiger people are often unattractive, the streets are strewn with garbage, the walls are crawling with roaches, and servants are expected to serve jail time for their masters' misdeeds. It adds up to a scathing indictment of a society that does nothing for most of its citizens and yet expects them to carry the load. Adiga’s novel is more than just audacious. It is filled with bitter irony and black comedy, hilarious and horrifying in equal measure. Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize.… (more)
LibraryThing member omphalos02
Frightening book of a man's "rise" in India. It is also wry and disturbing and amoral and clever by turns. And I'm still not sure if I would recommend it or even read another book by this author. The fact that (spoiler alert) there are three killings in the story (2 vehicular, one premeditated murder) and the story deals with how the people responsible go about getting away with it...that just disturbs me. (I will say that the situation on India appears to be very dire.)… (more)
LibraryThing member bohemiangirl35
John Lee's performance of White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is quite good. Balram Halwai is born and raised in a small, poor village in India. As a successful business man, he writes a series of letters to a visiting Chinese official describing his childhood and his rags to riches story.

The story was interesting, especially since I know next to nothing about Indian culture. Adiga describes the caste system, the poverty and corruption, the brainwashing required to make one segment of society feel inferior and undeserving of anything better, as well as the anger that lies just beneath the surface. In addition, Adiga touches lightly on how the 'upper' caste is trapped by expectations and beliefs as well.

My only criticism is that most of the characters, besides the main character, are pretty flat. That may be on purpose as Balram has only minimal interaction with the other people in the book. However, I think the novel would have been more powerful if the reader had been given a chance to see another point of view or the other characters like the 'landlords' had been fleshed out in some other way.
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LibraryThing member jasonlf
Outstanding novel. Set in contemporary India, Balram Halwai (aka the White Tiger) narrates the story of how he climbed out of the poverty of the Darkness, became a driver for a rich man in town, followed him to Delhi, murdered him to steal his money, and ended up as an entrepreneur in Bangalore. (Don't worry, most of this, including the fact of the murder, is stated in the opening pages -- I didn't give anything away.)

The narration is simultaneously hilarious and savage, sympathetic and repellent, reliable and unreliable. The language is consistently inventive but not intrusive. The depiction of the economic life of India -- ranging from feudal to modern and from servants to masters -- is fascinating. This book will make you look twice, and then look twice again, and then look twice again, before crossing the street in India ever again.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I listened to this book on audio--John Lee was an extraordinary reader. The novel is in the form of a first-person narrative written in a letter to the Chinese premier. The narrator (known as The White Tiger) relates how he rose from being a poor, lower caste Indian to the driver for a wealthy family, from a wanted murderer to a Bangalore entrepreneur. Full of insights into life in modern-day India, his story is sad, funny, witty, shocking--you name it. All told in a fascinating voice.… (more)
LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
Balram Halwai, an upstart entrepreneur in Bangalore spends a number of nights writing letters to the Chinese Prime Minister, since he’s heard he is planning a visit to India to know the secret behind Indian business creativity. Balram, an uneducated man from the humblest of beginnings, feels he is himself the answer.

Balram’s story takes us from a poor village on the dirty Ganges, where his talent for scamming and using the opportunity lands him a position in the service of a wealthy family, to working as a driver for his new master when he moves to bustling Dehli. It’s a very dark picture of India we get through Balram’s eyes – a place of oppressive families, vast class differences upheld through humiliation and violence and corruption on all levels. The initial respect he feels for his master Ashok soon turns into disappointment, then contempt and finally hatred. He spends more and more time thinking about killing him. After all, didn’t the school inspector once compare Balram to the rare white tiger?

Adiga gives us a street level view of contemporary India, in a more realistic way than I think I’ve encountered before. And the fuming anger that lies underneath the text here is refreshing. But all in all, I can’t really see what the big fuss is about here. The story of the book is straight as an arrow, and it’s no surprise where things are heading. Balram is a pretty interesting character, but we have him pretty much figured out by page fifty. This is an okay read, no doubt, but with the rave reviews and the prize, I guess I was hoping for a little bit more.
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LibraryThing member FicusFan
It was an OK read, but not anything major in terms of reading experience or prize-worthiness. It was well written, had humor, but was a pretty typical book about being poor in a third world country and dealing with the well-off and official corruption. Of course the poor man is corrupted in order to compete with the rich, for a decent life.

I actually found the blurb on the back to be more interesting than the book.

The story started off interesting, but then never lived up to premise at the start that he was some sort of deranged killer. His life story was rather banal, and too long, and the deaths were a rather mundane explication of the saying, behind every fortune there is a crime (neither are worthy of the word 'great').

The book was written in the style of the POV writing a series of seven letters to the Premier of China, who is going to visit India (not that the POV knows or will ever meet the Premier). What follows is a rather ho-hum recitation of the life of the letter writer, who is poor. There are occasional comments from the modern day when he is writing the letters.

There are some insights and actions that are meant to be shocking and twisty, but other than the occasional bit of humor it really doesn't work.

The POV is angry at the rich, and the officials who have designed the system to keep him, and most of the rest of the poor down. It is impossible to rise above where you are born, and do better for yourself or your family. In fact he thinks the family structure of Indians is used to keep the poor down. He likens the situation to the Rooster Coop that keeps Roosters imprisoned at the market until the are taken out and slaughtered.

Of course the POV never seems to notice that escaping from the Rooster Coop of the poor, only leads to a larger Rooster Coop that keeps the well off performing what is socially expected of them as well.

And while he has great outrage at the injustice of life for the poor, he gives little thought for the Untouchables, who are treated even worse than the poor, and are even lower. It reduces the whole exercise to one person being pissed about his ox being gored, rather than a serious book about social injustice.

Apparently there is controversy about Adiga's portrayal of India in a negative light. There appears to be those who are taken in, want to be taken in, want others to be taken in by the Potemkin Villages quality of modern India. Globalization has brought growth, wealth, and prosperity but only for the privileged few. Their stranglehold on political power, and the corruption of the officials insure that the good life is only a veneer, not a deep part of the reality of modern India.
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LibraryThing member PIER50
An enjoyable, if somewhat cynical look at modern day India. The 'White Tiger' of the story is Balram, a chauffer who murders his employer and starts a new life running his own taxi company. The descriptions of life in the streets and slums of India won't help the Indian tourist board, but as a look at the background to India's drive towards a centre of commerce and technology, it is certainly thought provoking. Whilst the beginning and middle sections of the book are good, I felt the end where Balram murders his employer and goes onto to greater things all happened a bit quickly and seemed slightly at odds with the more in depth earlier passages. Worth a read none the less.… (more)

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