Monday, April 14, 2014

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (15 of 166)

One Sentence Summary: Balram Halwai, hailing from one of many (any) villages in the great swath of neglected rural India, becomes the first driver to the son of a coal magnate and, desperate for real opportunity, murders him.

“Go to Old Delhi,and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundred of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them.They know they are next, yet they cannot rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with humans in this country.” 
I spent six months in India last year and am still processing the experience. The White Tiger is disturbing, but even more disturbing when you know how frank and completely possible it is. Spending time in the head of Balram Halwai, you could be in the head of any number of individuals whose lives are placed in the careful boxes of caste and class. The more you think about it, the less solid any ground becomes. While this book is most definitely a tale that seeks to pull back the veil from modern India specifically, it also makes simple, human observations that extend to the infrastructure of any nation where class designation makes us see each other as less or "more than".  Being in Balram's head made me a bit queasy because, while he is certainly corrupt and ultimately wicked, you can see how he became that way and it is very hard to blame him completely. You sympathize with him and you don't want to, but you must.

Adiga's narrative is sharp and quick and I would have been disappointed had it not been, as it did bring home the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Because of this fluid and accessible writing style, the whole book gives off the feeling of a car crash that you are watching take place, complete with the little building scream at the back of your head. The author's choice to let us in on Halwai's trespass right at the beginning of the story sets up the entire story for a feeling of momentum so intense that you almost want to jump and roll off the train. He pulls no punches in confronting the reader with a harsh underworld that is chaotic and of a darkness that feels well-like, but seems to avoid blatant exaggeration. That being said, I read one review that said that The White Tiger was not a work of literature, but a collection of facts. That puts words to what I was trying to articulate throughout reading. While I do not completely agree with the claim that it is not literature, I also sometimes spotted the profusion of information, it betrayed itself by becoming significant to the point of being noticeable- still, I think it a small price to pay for the level of immersion that Adiga creates. You get all the way to say, the seventh circle of Delhi. Certainly, sometimes this book can come across a bit of a crash course- but I stick to my guns when I say that it ultimately avoids the dreaded feeling of "information dump".

This is one that I would like to abstain from "rating", per se. How would I go about rating it? Did I enjoy it. No, not really. I was glad to finish it, but also glad for having read it. Did I think it was significant and important and worth reading? Oh yes, definitely. On a more personal level, I may never completely understand the unrest that still comes upon my soul when I think of India, but reading brings me closer and I think that this book tapped into that need for me. Still, it is heavy and if you are seeking a happy-go-lucky guru road trip tale, this is not going to be it.

I am now off to go read more heavy literature because I said so in my last post. I think that after Beloved, The Color Purple, and Snow Falling on Cedars, I will be ready for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix- really, really ready.

Thanks, Hannah South, for the recommendation!

Shelf Status: Off to a book tarp in Connaught Place
You May Enjoy The White Tiger if you enjoy: The Invisible Man (Ellison, not Wells), Interpreter of Maladies

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