It’s a few days before I depart for my first visit to India.  In preparation for the trip, not only have I been attending a weekly seminar at Kellogg to familiarize us with the country and its business, but I’ve indulged in a few good novels about India.  Here’s my review of one.

Aravind Adiga’s book, The White Tiger, won the prestigious Man Booker Prize (see http://www.themanbookerprize.com/; this award is given annually to a full-length novel written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland and published in the United Kingdom) in 2008.  A novel of modern India, it presents its story through a series of long, late-night letters written by the book’s protagonist – Balram Halwai – to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao.  Through these letters, we learn the history of Balram’s life and of his rise from the stature of a rural son of a rickshaw-puller (i.e., from the poorest of the poor), to becoming the driver for the town’s rich landowner, and ultimately to running his own business – albeit as a fugitive from the law.  Balram’s transformation involves the murder of his own employer, the theft of 700,000 rupees intended as a bribe for a government official, and his identification with “The creature that gets born only once every generation in the jungle” – the white tiger he sees at the National Zoo.  Seeing this magnificent animal in a cage, he recognizes that he must escape his own human and social “cage.”

This book is written in a relentlessly modern, “cool,” and very English (as opposed to Indian) language style.  It is engaging without being trivial; Balram’s letters vividly evoke the rural countryside as well as the incredible traffic jams in Delhi and Gurgaon.  The vast contrasts between poor and wealthy in India, and the extreme rarity associated with rising from the lower classes to the rarefied “White Tiger” level, are shown so strongly that one finds oneself actually rooting for the murderer as the hero of this novel.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in modern India, or just in fine writing and a great story.  I’ll be interested to see how my opinion of the book changes or expands after experiencing India not just vicariously through this book, but in person.

The Book Is:  The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, 2008.

Learn more about Aravind Adiga’s writings at:  http://www.aravindadiga.com/ .

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