December 24, 2008

The White Tiger

D gave me The White Tiger as a gift because he claimed that after reading the first 3 pages he knew I would love it.

He was right.

This book won this year's Man Booker Prize for fiction, and I can see why. The tale is told as an autobiographical letter, composed in the evenings, from a self-made, self-educated, "half-baked" Indian entrepreneur to the Premier of the People's Republic of China.

Many of the reviews compared it favorably to other Indian literature and noted with pleasure its lack of swirling saris and scents of saffron. They celebrated its setting in the grainy underbelly of the day-to-day India of the lower castes. I could not compare the setting, as I'd never read anything set in India before, but I can say that it is an enthralling and fast read.

Before you know it, you are swept up into the competitive world of Balram, a servant-driver who eventually becomes a successful business owner.

Balram's letter is an exercise in character development. We learn more about Balram, his wants, desires, and disappointments than we do about anything else. However, because his tale is set first in a poor Indian village in the "Darkness," later in a rich suburb of New Dehli, and finally in Bangalore, his story is woven through the binds that his family, his country, his culture, his employer, and his poverty place upon him. In describing these struggles, he paints a fascinating picture of the modern Indian man, and how India "works" through multi-layered competition and corruption.

I highly recommend it.

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