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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
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The White Tiger (2008)

by Aravind Adiga

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,470309592 (3.79)573
  1. 112
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    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (jtho)
    jtho: Another great story set in India that shows us both the seedy sides and the beauty.
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    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: I happened to be reading this YA title simultaneously, and was surprised/pleased to find that the two books went together quite well. Similarly charismatic narrator and several of the same themes.
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    The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (Cecilturtle)
  5. 20
    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: Both novels look at the dire side of life in India, and both are very well written.
  6. 20
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    SqueakyChu: Another book, this one much quieter, about a man's desire to move up in society.
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    wonderlake: First-person narratives of growing disenchantment
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    mcenroeucsb: Books with Amusing Rogue protagonists
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    wonderlake: Balanced, measured accounts by murderers!
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  19. 11
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  20. 11
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» See also 573 mentions

English (285)  Dutch (7)  Spanish (3)  French (3)  German (3)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  Lithuanian (1)  All languages (309)
Showing 1-5 of 285 (next | show all)
The rise of a poor rural Indian through modern urban India -- a cutthroat, almost American tale of winner takes all. Very good book club choice. One pet peeve: author compares his work to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in postscript at end -- I disagree, racism in America a unique evil. Last thought: liked Thirty Umrigar's The Space Between Us more -- also read as part of book club, also set in India, also from a servant's point of view (a woman's P.O.V.), deeper characters, more complexity. But then, who won the big Booker Prize? (Aravind Adiga). Sorry feeling very feminist today. ( )
  cabockwrites | Jul 17, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

From rickshaws to SUVs

As a kid, I thought of India as this country filled with majestic temples and marching elephants and women in sari dancing to that distinct Indian music. As a teenager, I thought of India as this country dense with heat and dust and traffic and the sour smell of perspiration coming off Indian bodies. Now, as a 20-something rank and file slave alternating between giving in to the demands of the corporate world and shutting out the same world to entertain fantasies of ruling it, I think of India as this country filled still with majestic temples dense with heat and dust and political turbulence spoken by that unmistakable Indian accent.

That same accent I heard in this novel, spoken by the once low-class driver, now middle-scale entrepreneur Balram. He pronounces pizza as pija, mall as maal. He describes the undersides of progressing India with harsh, irreverent eyes. He writes a series of letters to some Chinese official. He confesses to him a crime that he is proud to have committed.

The crime is no secret. He immediately lets us know that he is a murderer. Who and why he killed a man are two things that the reader would ask while going through the letters. The immediate answers are easily found. But how about the deeper ones?

When you’re in Delhi, repeat the story I’ve told you to some good, solid middle-class man of the city. Tell him you heard this wild extravagant, impossible story from some driver about being framed for a murder his master committed on the road. And watch as your good, solid middle-class friend’s face blanches. Watch how he swallows hard–how he turns away to the window–watch how he changes the topic at once.

The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. We have left the villages, but the masters still own us, body, soul, and arse.

Yes, that’s right: we all live in the world’s greatest democracy.

What a fucking joke.


The White Tiger is at once a humorous tale of a man’s philosophies and confession, and a dark view of the Indian class wars and political system. Reading the novel makes me feel nauseous. I can almost taste that squalid bitterness rising at the back of my throat. Had I any outstanding travel plans to India, I might have canceled them after finishing the book.

The anti-hero tells us the India that he knows and the India that is concealed to us by travel agencies. However, I have a bit of a problem. Balram seems too Westernized in the way Filipino characters in the scant Filipino novels I have read are. It feels weirdly juxtaposed that he, a man born in a rural town where reliable transport, potable water, and good education are still issues to be addressed, would inject his sentences with that word: fucking. Although it’s something that he picked from the wife of his spineless but good-natured employer, it sounds like squeaking chalk when spoken by an Indian or Filipino or any Asian character.

The details in the novel seem so real probably because it is overdone at times. The depiction of India’s undeveloped lands sounds a little romanticized. It couldn’t be that bad, surely? Or it could be that I’m being naïve, acting like a solid middle-class worker sitting comfortably and typing with not a drop of sweat.

Actually, this novel could have taken place in our country. I recalled my call center days when I read this. Balham, after the murder, builds an empire of cabs, banking on call centers who need to fetch their agents and let them take or make calls at 3 AM. He describes the scenes with piercing accuracy that I could not help shuddering at the remembrance of dragging my frail, sleep-deprived body to go to work, not mentioning the dangers lurking at the unpeopled overpasses and dark streets.

We are in competition with India in the call center industry. In fact, we also work with India. I remember reporting to Indian bosses, transferring calls to Indian agents and supervisors, and learning to understand the way they speak (I almost failed an interview just because I got to understand “What are your future plans?” on the third repetition). The call center culture is also strikingly familiar (the pizza parties while on the phone, the rushed cigarette-smoking while on short breaks). So in a way, the novel is close to me.

And because of the familiarity it created, I am convinced that the real India is the one accounted to us by our anti-hero. Yes, it is chillingly ruthless. It is bordering on exaggerated ridicule, but on hindsight, there’s a lot of truth in it.

The poverty, injustice, and corruption that are too often mentioned are the ones that I’ve seen too often on local TV documentaries. We read about the poor made poorer thanks to a dispossession that forces them to the streets. We witness street children intentionally hit by speeding cars. We see how local officials try to put an attempt in solving such cases and slowly forget about them once money is stuffed in their pockets.

I cannot say much about India because I’ve never been there and I could only care so much for her. I have my own country to worry about. But yes, we are happy for India on her rise to globalization. But I guess she has to watch out for the sleeping tigers long kept in the dark. They may pounce her at the back if she forgets to turn the light for them. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Listened to the first disc on audio. Intended to switch to print but was not sufficiently hooked on the story.
  JennyArch | Feb 10, 2014 |
Good fiction work by Arvind Adiga themed on changing socio-economic fabric in our country. The style of narration mixed with first-person and third-person doesnt make you lose interest. ( )
  ashutosh.kumar | Jan 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 285 (next | show all)
It's a thrilling ride through a rising global power; a place where, we learn, the brutality of the modern city is compounded by that of age-old tradition. "In the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India," says Balram. "These days there are two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies."
added by mikeg2 | editThe Independent, David Mattin (May 11, 2008)
 

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aravind Adigaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rey, Santiago delTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For Ramin Bahrani
First words
Mr. Premier, Sir. Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.
Quotations
“The jails of Delhi are full of drivers who are there behind bars because they are taking the blame for their good, solid middle-class masters. We have left the villages but the masters still own us, bodies, souls, and arse. Yes, that’s right: we all live in one of the world’s greatest democracies. What a fucking joke.”
A rich man's body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank. Ours are different. My father's spine was a knotted rope, the kind that women use in villages to pull water from wells; the clavicle curved around his neck in high relief, like a dog's collar; cuts and nicks and scars, like little whip marks in his flesh, ran down his chest and waist, reaching down below his hip bones into his buttocks. The story of a poor man's life is written on his body, in sharp pen.
The book of your revolution sits in the pit of your belly, young Indian. Crap it out, and read
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Balram Halwai is the White Tiger - the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The city is a revelation. As he drives his master to shopping malls and call centres, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he will never be able to gain access to that world. As Balram broods over his situation, he realizes that there is only one way he can become part of this glamorous new India - by murdering his master."The White Tiger" presents a raw and unromanticised India, both thrilling and shocking - from the desperate, almost lawless villages along the Ganges, to the booming Wild South of Bangalore and its technology and outsourcing centres. The first-person confession of a murderer, "The White Tiger" is as compelling for its subject matter as for the voice of its narrator - amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing.
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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.… (more)

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