It is for obvious reason why I read this book. Obvious reason as readers from the rest of the world, what this book did to warrant it to win the Man Booker Prize.
The book begin with a patronising way, i.e. undermine the Chinese Premier’s attempt at learning entrepreneurship from the Indians. The paragraph addressed to Premier Wen JiaBao dictates:
Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entreprenuer. Thousands and thousands of them. Especially in the field of technology. And these entreprenuers – we entrepreneurs – have set up all these outsourcing companies that virtually run American now.
I was ready to leave the book. Then I persevered.
The whole book is segmented by days, with the protagonist giving the Chinese Premier Mr. Wen JiaBao a first hand account of the rise of an entrepreneur in India. The book reads like a murder thriller, satirical dark comedy, a memoir, a political appeal.
It is a story about a low caste Halwai named Munna (means a boy), then Balram, then Ashok. A man who was not given a proper name, an identity in the vast humanity called India. He was pulled out from school and scholarship and work in a tea shop to earn a living for his family. He found a way to work as a driver for a rich family who earn their livelihood in coal; gaining their access to the resources through constant bribing of government officials. The family has two sons, Muresh, a mean man looking like mongoose; Ashok, the tall, good looking son who came back from America with a wife named Pinky Madam. Balram was laughed at, scorn upon, jeer at, for not being able to pronounced pizza correctly, dressing like a maharaja as servant. The family also expect him to sent money home. Balram is a servant to his master, he is also a servant to his family. Until one day he decided not to be a servant anymore.
For not giving the story away, lets just say the book involves an act of being framed for hit-and-run, divorce, meet up with old flame, a murder, adopted nephew, an entrepreneur is born, whole family is wiped out, the rise of Bangalore, and being framed for hit-and-run again.
Bit and pieces from the book that I love:
I gather you yellow-skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy. Some politicians on the radio was saying that’s why we Indians are going to beat you; we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy.
Go to Old Delhi, behind the Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench – the stench of terrified, feathered flesh. On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning young butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently shopped-up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of dark blood. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with human beings in this country. The trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy.
The Great Indian Rooster Coop. do you have something like it in China too? I doubt it, Mr Jiabao. Or you wouldn’t need the Communist Party to shoot people and a secret police to raid their houses at night and put them in jail like I’ve you heard you have over there. Here in India we have no dictatorship. No secret police.
That’s because we have the coop.
No servant can ever tell what the motives of his heart are. So we loathe our masters behind a façade of love – or do we love them behind a façade of loathing?
And another short quote:
I was looking for keys for years
But the door was always open.
His evidence that the white men is on the way out. Due to buggery, excess use of mobile phone and drugs. i.e.
My humble prediction: in twenty years’ time, it will be just us yellow men and brown men at the top of the pyramid, and we’ll rule the whole world. And God save everyone else.
I read the book at the same time watching the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”. So it was easy for me to visualise what a slum really looks like and how the ones who live in Darkness seems to be condemned to a life of doom. The book is very clever and written metaphorically. Through the eyes of a driver, the life in India came alive. Two puddle of spit, each voicing their justification and condemnation for murder. An allegory of the capability of the mind to vacillate between two extremes. By the middle of the book, I was hooked. I couldn’t let go until the end. If I were to write a book, I wanted to write one like this.
This book is absolutely brilliant. An easy read, not too cumbersome, not too light weight. It deserves to win the Man Booker Prize 2008. It makes you think, makes you wonder about humanity, about what you would stand up for. If you are a master and keep a servant at home, it would make you shudder and fearful to think about the things that a servant is capable of doing. And yes, be afraid because The White Tiger is very convincing.
It is too early in the year to conclude, but this book potentially top my chart for the best book ever read for the year 2009. Stay tuned.
For more about the author, see:
Aravind Adiga was born in Madras in 1974 and was raised in Australia. He studied in Columbia and Oxford Universities. A former correspondent in India for Time magazine, his articles have also appeared in publications like the Financial Times, the Independent, and the Sunday Times. He lives in Mumbai. The White Tiger is his first novel.
Blazingly savage and brilliant .. What Adiga lifts the lid on is also inexorably true: not a single detail in this novel rings false or feels confected. The white tiger is an excoriating piece of work [that] also manages to be suffused with mordant wit, modulating to clear-eyed pathos.” Neel Mukherjee, Sunday Telegraph