Aug 30, 2011

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2008): Book Review

The First Edition Cover
‘The White Tiger’ is a compelling story compellingly told. It picks up, from the unyieldingly vast socio-political mosaic of India, a fragment that has more-often-than-not been airbrushed beyond recognition in the popular imagination and sidestepped, on account of moral inconvenience, by the  mainstream cultural commentators.

In his debut novel Aravind Adiga anatomizes many of the subterranean sociological contradictions of the ‘rooster coop’ that is India (for most of its citizens anyway) in a hard-hitting mind-expanding manner. 

He renders readily comprehensible, the fabricated made-for-television character of the ‘India Emerging’ narrative that has painstakingly been manufactured, propagated and re-enforced in the cultural consciousness of urban middle class India (and indeed in the minds of media reportage-dependent international ‘India Observers’).

One can’t help but suspect that Adiga had in mind to subtly embody a revolutionary manifesto for the subalterns and the oppressed of India in this book. The whole book is suffused with philosophical irony and replete with tragicomic references to the daily subjugations that the countless Indian underclasses are inflicted with, as a matter of culturally sanctioned custom.

The protagonist Balram Halwai is a reification of the pathetic subhumanization inherent in the production relations and cultural patterns in rural India and also a biographical argument for violent social upheaval. The setting of the first half of the story, a nondescript village called Laxmangarh, is an all-purpose allegory for almost any part of the Indian hinterland.

Other characters in the book, most notably the Mr. Ashok and his landlord ilk, through their motivations and actions help add completion to the description of the psychological-mechanics of oppression that the story brings forth with fresh authenticity. The crisp folksy interactions between Balram and his fellow poor and Balram's missives on India to the Chinese president Wen Jiabao (who Balram is writing a letter to) are brilliantly piquant!!

Adiga after receiving The Man Booker Prize
Arvind Adiga angers, rouses, outrages, horrifies, entertains, and educates you... and forces your innards to viscerally revolt at the human condition of the oppressed!!

The story effects a moral improvement in the reader by expanding his circle of  empathy to encompass the lives of countless those inhabiting the obscure fringes of conventional social imagination.

One hopes that it will turn out to be the harbinger of a trend in contemporary Indian literature that combines critical realism with narrative dramaticity. A great book. A worthy recipient of the many honors that it was bestowed with.

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