🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Having given the FictionFan award for Book of 2011* to Adiga’s great novel Last Man in Tower, I backtracked to this earlier book with very high expectations, perhaps too high. The White Tiger won the 2008 Man Booker Prize but, while it shows all the same skill in writing, the humour and the ability to compel the reader to keep turning the pages, for me it lacks some of the humanity and warmth that characterises the later book.
On the eve of the Chinese President’s visit to India, Balram Halwai, the White Tiger of the title, writes him a series of letters ostensibly to explain how democracy and entrepreneurship are the factors that differentiate the two countries. However as Balram’s story unfolds, it become a confessional, as we learn of the unconventional way in which he broke out of the ‘Rooster Coop’ that keeps the lower caste Indian in a state of poverty and servility to the rich.
Balram’s job as driver and servant to a rich businessman gives Adiga the opportunity to show the contrasts in Indian society, as does Balram’s move from the poverty of rural India to the rich parts of Delhi in the wake of his master. Adiga’s writing is so assured and flowing that the book is a pleasure to read and Balram, despite his faults, is a character it’s hard not to empathise with and like. But somehow the descriptions of the society seem a bit shallow – not enough shades of grey. Adiga is wryly scathing about the corruption endemic in politics and the police, but so many of the characters seem purely driven by greed that often there’s very little room for the reader to sympathise with them.
Overall, I found this a well-written, enjoyable read with obvious signs of the talent and promise that, for me, Adiga fulfilled in Last Man in Tower. Recommended.
*The prize for this prestigious award is that I buy the author’s next book.