The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: The 2008 Man Booker prize winner is a darkly satirical exposure of the inequalities in modern day India. Full of pathos, it's a very readable, funny, absorbing and uncomfortable story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1843547228

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Balram Halwai, a Bangalore entrepreneur (of sorts) and a natural philosopher, hears that there is a planned visit from the Chinese leader to India to learn the source of Indian entrepreneurial talent. Balram knows that the story he will be told by the Indian leader will be a long way from the true story of modern Indian life, and so resolves, over the course of seven nights, to write to the Chinese premier with the story of his life and his own journey from a poor son of a rickshaw driver to the head of his own business.

This clever device allows first time author, Aravind Adiga, to move from the general state of India to the specifics of Balram's story. Particularly when Balram is talking about generalisations of modern day India, at his philosophical best, the results are extremely funny. Like most good comedy, the humour comes from being centred in truth. The result is a painful exposé, full of anger, at the injustices, of the underbelly of Indian society. However, when he concentrates on Balram's own story, interesting though it is, I felt that less convinced by the letter to the Chinese premier device.

Balram grew up in 'the Darkness' - the poor interior. He is more intelligent than most (he is described by a teacher as a 'white tiger' that only appears once in a generation in the wild), but still his prospects are not great until he secures a position as a driver for the family of one of the landlords' families of his home region. Using his wits and taking any opportunity he can to promote his cause, he eventually secures the 'number one driver' position affording him the opportunity to drive for one of the landlord's sons when he moves to the 'Light' in Delhi.

Yet he is still very much a servant with no prospect of reaching the dizzy heights of 'entrepreneur'. In order to get there, something more drastic than quick wits are needed, and it's not giving anything away to reveal that a little murder might also be called for.

The India portrayed is one of bribery, corruption and huge social injustices. I was drawn into the story from the first page and held to the end. Adiga has a wonderfully satirical style. It's more 'Slumdog Millionaire' than Salman Rushdie.

The White Tiger won the Man Booker prize in 2008. In many ways it's an unusual choice for the prize. It's not an overtly literary book, but it is a very good and entertaining read. And you will be left wondering if Balram is a revolutionary idealist or really just another thug in modern India's urban battle. Is that enough to win one of the most prestigious fiction prizes? I'm not so sure. One thing I am sure about though is that for a first novel, this is highly impressive and marks Adiga out as a writer to watch.

Many thanks to the publishers, Atlantic Books, for inviting The Bookbag to review this prize winning book.

Of course, it's not the first time the Man Booker prize has gone to an Indian writer. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children was also a noteworthy winner which should be compulsory reading to anyone with an interest in modern fiction. 2009's Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is also highly recommended.

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Buy The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga at


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