The White Tiger – Book Review

whitetiger When you have heard the story of how I got to Bangalore and become one of its most successful (though probably least known) businessmen, you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtured, and developed in this, the glorious twenty-first century of man. The century, more specifically, of the yellow and brown man. – from The White Tiger, page 4 –

Balram Halwai is the mocking, pathological narrator of Aravind Adiga’s Booker winning novel The White Tiger.  Born in the Darkness – the underbelly of India – and destined from childhood to be a servant, he tells his story in a series of letters over a seven day period to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China. A self-described entrepreneur and philosopher, Balram explains how he has come to see himself as a white tiger.

The inspector pointed his cane straight at me. “You, young man, are an intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow in this crowd of thugs and idiots. In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals – the creature that comes along only once in a generation?”

I thought about it and said:

“The white tiger.”

“That’s what you are, in this jungle.”

– from The White Tiger, page 30 –

It is this inner view of himself – a rare creature in a savage world – which drives him eventually to murder his master and take charge of his life.

Even as a boy I could see what was beautiful in the world: I was destined not to stay a slave. – from The White Tiger, page 35 –

Adiga has created a not wholly likeable protagonist to narrate the story of an India which is sharply divided between the very rich (and corrupt) and the very poor. The cynical voice of Balram jeers at democracy and uncovers the dark, corrupt world of the wealthy upper class. He pokes fun at China who despite their triumphs ‘in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy.

Adiga uses an analogy of roosters in the coop to describe the servant’s (or poor man’s) inescapable status in India.

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. – from The White Tiger, page 147 –

But for Balram, there is a way out – one of his own making. He resists the pull of family obligation and loyalty to his master and plans his escape through cold-blooded murder.

[…] only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed – hunted, beaten, and burned alive by the masters – can break out of the coop. – from The White Tiger, page 150 –

Rage is what fuels Balram to break free of his caste and become a successful businessman. He takes his destiny into his own hands and does what he feels he must to become a free man. And in the end, he concludes there is really no difference between a man and a demon – only that one has woken up and the other is still sleeping. The message seems to be that there is no good anywhere in India. It is no wonder that Indians have been critical of this novel.

The White Tiger is an interesting story – one that is compelling and blackly humorous despite its negative message. It is a scathing commentary on the divide between the poor and the rich, the benevolent and the corrupt – but, it is ultimately just a very good yarn.



Read an interview with Adiga.

Other reviews of this book:

Michelle at 1More Chapter

Marie at The Boston Bibliophile

Susannah at 7th Decade Thoughts

Karen at Bookbath

Mystic Wanderer at What I Am Reading

Dovegreyreader Scribbles

Raidergirl at An Adventure in Reading

Redhead Ramble

Valentina at Valentina’s Room

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    • mari on January 3, 2009 at 17:37

    This sounds great and one that my husband might enjoy reading. He travels to Bangalor for work every now and then.

    • Kathy on January 3, 2009 at 17:54

    I really want to read this one. Thanks for the review.

    • Karen on January 3, 2009 at 18:33

    Thanks so much for the link to my review of this one. I love how you put it at the end of your review that this is a “very good yarn” – I completely agree!

  1. Great review! I’m going to put this one on my list!

    • Kate on January 3, 2009 at 21:04

    Good review! I grow more and more curious about this book. A good friend of mine who is a book reviewer and of Indian descent reviewed this over on Lit Mob ( sorry, I can’t figure out the html tags!) and didn’t hate it so much as was immensely cynical about it. It’s been sitting on my TBR pile for months…I should get to it!

  2. Hi! I’ve reviewed this book too during the Read-a-thon. I thought it was interesting and worth a reading but not my favuorite.
    here’s my link:

    • Jill on January 4, 2009 at 04:03

    I’ve read such wonderful things about this book. I hope to read it this year!

  3. This is (still) on my tbr list – this is a lovely review and all the more reason to take get round to reading it!

    • Wendy on January 4, 2009 at 09:34

    Mari: I think anyone traveling in India would enjoy this book. I felt like sometimes I was missing some of the satire because I have never been there.

    You’re welcome Kathy!

    Karen: Ultimately I just liked the story 🙂 But so many reviewers are focusing on the big themes. I guess for me, the themes are fine, but if the “story” didn’t do it, so what? *laughs* Glad you agree!

    Thanks Vasilly – I think you’ll like this one.

    Valentina: Thanks for the link to your review…I’ll update my post to add it 🙂

    Jill: I think you’ll like this one…it is very different from most of the books I read, but I liked it.

    Seachanges: Thanks for stopping by! And thank you for your kind words.

  4. I definitely want to read this one – thanks for the review!

    • Wendy on January 6, 2009 at 08:49

    S. Krishna: Considering you and I seem in sync with our literary likes/dislikes…I think you’ll enjoy this one 🙂

    • Teddy on January 6, 2009 at 18:11

    Wonderfrul review Wendy! I am really hoping to get to this one in 2009.

    • Wendy on January 9, 2009 at 17:06

    Teddy: I’ll look forward to your review.

    • Ashley on June 6, 2009 at 08:28

    The book is really good. i finished it in a week. the language is updated and very easy to ready. It’s also quite funny, because of Belram’s psychotic sense of humor. =]

    • Wendy on June 8, 2009 at 05:58

    Ashley: Glad to see you enjoyed this book – I agree, it was blackly humorous at times!

  5. I really enjoyed this book, despite the rather black humour. It was interesting to feel so many different emotions about the central character Balram – disgust, pity, fascination, amusement. The complexity of this character is what kept me turning pages.

    I have another book by Aravind Adiga, Between the Assassinations, on my TBR pile. It isn’t released here in Australia until the end of June ’09, but was released elsewhere in 2008. Anyone read it already?

    • Wendy on June 22, 2009 at 06:34

    Susan: I liked the black humor as well…Balram was an interesting character, for sure! I haven’t read anything else by this author (yet).

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