The White Tiger


The White Tiger (2008) by Aravind Adiga is light prose loaded with scathing dark humor. Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and Adiga's first novel, this is a story told by Balram Halwai, an uneducated driver/servant of a wealthy businessman in the Indian town of Laxmangarh and then New Delhi. Balram's got high hopes he's going places, plus the gumption to question his lowly place in a seemingly inflexible social structure of have-a-lots, have-nots, and the utterly dispensable. He describes himself as a social entrepreneur and good listener, absorbing details of the business and political conversations carried out in the back seat. And he recounts these for us through the filters of his class and his burgeoning criminality—or entrepreneurship, as he calls it.


I enjoyed it for its harsh humor, cleverly delivered through the perspective of a not-so-clever rogue who's nevertheless philosophical in his crude way. In the same vein as the film Parasite (2019), we're given a view seen by a lower class, of a society where the rich are effete or incompetent in their refinement, and are thus fair game. Particularly the unjust and corrupt.


The novel has its quirks. The whole thing is structured as a letter addressed to the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (for me it didn't quite sink in why Balram was writing this letter, but as a device it effectively made for a more interesting and amusing narrative). This is also a story of freedom, as Balram is determined not to be just another caged rooster, but a white tiger that escapes the "Darkness" for the "Light." In short: entertaining, effective, and a breeze to get through.

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