Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.

arts Home > Book Reviews


The White Tiger

The White Tiger

Author:Aravind Adiga
Release Date:2008
Publisher:Free Press

By Rupert Wondolowski | Posted 8/6/2008

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga's debut novel, is a savage blast of social satire, a streetwise view of India's entrenched underclass bumping up against its computer outsourcing megamillionaires. It's both a cure for all the pastel, lyrical views of polite Indian society found in many contemporary novels and movies making it to the States and a balance to Bollywood's sweet derangement.

It tells the tale of the former servant Balram from the poor village of Laxmangarh, nicknamed the Darkness, who breaks free from his lowly caste by being an "original listener" and by absorbing the amorality of his jaded masters. Balram tells his story through midnight letters he writes to the Chinese premier over the course of seven nights. The premier is coming to Bangalore to meet some of India's entrepreneurs, and Balram considers himself the ultimate one, having escaped his doomed roots of a rickshaw-pulling father and sickly mother--his formative years spent massaging his old master's feet--to his current state running his own large company under a ceiling of chandeliers he's installed as a constellation to shine over his new life. He achieved his new life through a brutal act of murder, but "To break the law of his land--to turn bad news into good news--is the entrepreneur's prerogative."

Balram is impressed by China because it is one of only three nations never to have been ruled by a foreign power. He believes that "the future of the world lies with the yellow man and the brown man now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, cell phone usage, and drug abuse." As a young, bright child--named the "White Tiger," the rarest of all jungle animals, by a visiting school inspector--Balram grew up under the shadow of the "Black Fort," an imposing structure built and left standing by one of India's former rulers that he is too in awe of to explore. Kind of like Gatsby's "green light" in reverse, Balram stares constantly at this fort, which reminds him of his lack of a future and the weight of the past. It is only after escaping to the big city, Dhanbad, many years later, as a driver for a rich family, that he is able to return to his village and climb the mountain up to the Black Fort. By then he had been taken out of school and put to work so that his family could pay the dowry of a female relative and watches his overworked father die of tuberculosis without any medical care whatsoever, lying on a government hospital floor overrun with goats.

Balram finally climbs up to the Black Fort and stares down at his village. "[A]nd then I did something too disgusting to describe to you. Well, actually, I spat. Again and again. And then, whistling and humming, I went back down the hill." Eight months later, he slit his master's throat.

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter