Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The White Tiger: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)
is an irreverent look at modern day India - particularly at the relationship between master and servant. As the author tells it, this powerful, imbalanced relationship very much defines life in even modern day India perpetuating the caste system which has governed society in India for generations. The novel examines the relationship and its consequences for both master and servant.
The story is told from an interesting perspective – that of the white tiger – a self-declared successful entrepreneur who was born in the countryside and moved to Delhi to be the driver for a corrupt landlord. He ultimately built a successful business providing taxi services to the office and call center workers of Bangalore who kept US hours and therefore worked late into the night in India. He tells his story by way of letters to the Premier of China. This is an interesting set-up especially as you consider that India and China are often quoted as being in competition to be the next world superpower.
The narrator spares nothing in his honest look at the corruption that powers India and the indecencies suffered by the lower classes. By no means is this a lyrical tale of romantic India- Adiga blows those myths wide open and reveals the dark underbelly of the country. Nothing is sacred - the author challenges the presumed obligation to family felt by young Indian men and even demystifies the many religious rituals practiced by the country’s faithful.
There is an interesting theme of desire for an education that runs through the novel – the author does an excellent job of demonstrating the importance placed on education in this country and how those in lower classes see it as a way to rise above their given station. The author confesses to a passion for books – “So I stood around that big square of books. Standing around the books, even books in a foreign language, you feel a kind of electricity buzzing up towards you”. A sentiment to which I can certainly relate! As much as this narrator can seem unsympathetic, his recognition of the power of education and books endears him to me.
I was traveling in India as I read this book and many of the scenes resonated for me. I wonder if I would have found this book as appealing before coming here – would I have felt the criticism of the country too harsh? Having been here, however, I have seen a small piece of that underbelly and know that the country is comprised of much more than just the romantic scenes one sees in movies such as A Passage to India. For that reason, I found the book refreshing – I enjoyed its unvarnished look at this very complex country. It is definitely a must read – the book will provide a perspective on this country that you are unlikely to have seen in other books. It provides a nice balance to some of the more lyrical tales of India – by reading both perspectives you truly get an understanding for the contradictions that define India.