The White Tiger

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

In October, 2008, Aravind Adiga became the second youngest writer to win the prestigious Man Booker Award. He beat out fellow Indian writer Amitav Ghosh for A Sea of Poppies as well as the Irish writer Sebastian Barry for The Secret Sculpture, among others. Winning thrust Adiga, a former Time correspondent and freelance journalist, into the limelight for his acerbic and satiric look at contemporary India, especially the great divide between castes and classes that the drive toward globalization and wealth in the South Asian country has exacerbated. Reminiscent of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861) and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) and The Satanic Verses (1988), Adiga’s novel teems with the assorted misfits, ragamuffins, and other denizens of the slums, back alleys, and gleaming corporate towers of the new India of the twenty-first century.

When Balram Halwai learns that Wen Jiaboo, the premier of China, plans a visit to India to learn more about the country’s success with capitalism, Halwai sets out to offer the premier his own insights into the nature of the modern India. Over the course of seven days and nights, Halwai writes letters to Jiaboo, providing details into his life of entrepreneurship and chronicling the way that he was able to move from poverty to wealth. These letters paint a picture of an India divided by wealth, a class of workers enraged by their treatment and striving to overcome their lowly position for a piece of the wealth, and a political system that is so corrupt that murder can go unpunished if enough money can be paid to the police. Although a statue of Gandhi stands in the center of Bangalore, where Halwai lives, Gandhi’s memory is more mocked than venerated. To succeed in the new India requires cunning, desire, and the will to power. Without these, life, according to the narrator, is a joke.

Halwai is no stranger to poverty. Born in the village of Laxmangarh to a rickshaw driver, he does not even have a name until he begins school. On the first day of school, when the teacher asks the pupils their names, Halwai replies that his name is “boy.” When the teacher further questions Halwai, the narrator says that everyone in his family called him that and that they had no time to give him another name. The teacher then names the boy Balram, which means “sidekick to Krishna,” one of the many gods of Hinduism. Even though the narrator possesses a religious name, he hardly feels religious. His family’s poverty is so pressing that all he feels is the darkness of the India in which he lives. This poverty becomes even more crushing when Balram’s father dies of tuberculosis, and he soon finds himself working in a tea shop to help his family make ends meet. He gets his last name, Halwai, or “sweet-maker,” from his new job at the tea shop. Although his destiny seems settled, he eventually is hired as a chauffeur for one of the wealthiest men in the village, and his education about the nature of humanity and the deep political and social fissures in India soon begins.

Mr. Ashok, Balram’s new employer, represents the new wealth in India. Although the sources of his wealth are mysterious, he has enough money to hire servants and to keep ostentatious living quarters in the wealthy section of Delhi. He is also able to use his money to help, or try to help, influence political elections and to hire Western prostitutes. A fat man whose wealth has not made him especially happy, Ashok is married to a demanding Westerner named Pinky Madam, who makes life hell for her husband and his servants. Although Ashok’s family did not approve of his marriage to Pinky Madam, Ashok went ahead with the marriage. When Balram becomes Ashok’s driver, he soon begins to learn what life is like in the part of India that lives in the Light, away from the darkness of poverty and the superstition bred from centuries of religious observance. When Ashok’s brother, Mongoose (his real name is never revealed; this is the name that Balram gives the brother in order to represent the brother’s personality), meets Balram, he tells this new driver that the road is a jungle and that he will soon learn that he will have to roar to get ahead on it.

When Balram moves with Ashok and Pinky Madam to their home in Delhi, he sees the great gap between the two Indiasthe Light (rich) and the Dark (poor)and he plots a way to make his move from the darkness to the light. Ashok attempts to be an enlightened...

(The entire section is 1848 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

The Economist 388 (September 13, 2008): 94.

Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 4 (February 15, 2008): 159.

Library Journal 133, no. 3 (February 15, 2008): 89.

New Statesman 137 (March 31, 2008): 59.

The New York Times Book Review, November 9, 2008, p. 13.

The New Yorker 84, no. 9 (April 14, 2008): 75.

Publishers Weekly 255, no. 2 (January 14, 2008): 37.

The Times Literary Supplement, April 11, 2008, p. 21.