Monday, October 26, 2009

White Tiger

I really enjoyed The White Tiger. Great suggestion for the book club! It had great action, characters, plot, style, and social commentary. I particularly like how Adiga conveyed the consequences of the stark class differences in India and the drudgery and desperation to which the non-elite masses are subject. Adiga says in his interview at the end of the book that he believes that someone would have to do something of the magnitude of what Balram did to break out of poverty and he is probably right.

The first thing I liked about The White Tiger was the unusual format: a letter to the Chinese prime minister. It was a literary risk that seemed to pay off, allowing Balram to fully express his smugness and callous to someone that he arrogantly assumes would be interested in his opinion. It was also just kind of amusing. Through this and other devices, Adiga succeeds in creating an air of sinister cynicism that was surprisingly engaging.

As Mom said, Balram is a fascinating character. Watching his corruption as he claws and ultimately murders his way up to a higher social class was chilling and thought-provoking, reminding us that power corrupts and that the oppressed can become the oppressors. Further, I think Adiga was suggesting that this transition is a necessary consequence of a society with an extreme wealth gap. Republican tax-cutters and CEOs beware lest Balram comes for you!

Mom brought up an interesting point about the inherent exploitation that can exist when a privileged educated author writes a story about the underprivileged for an audience of similarly privileged readers. This has to be balanced against the societal value of raising awareness. I didn't quite share Mom's concerns in this case and I thought that the characterizations of Balram's acquaintances were an integral part of the main character's personality and yearning to escape the life of an indentured servant. How real these thoughts and feelings are among actual would-be Balrams though I don't know.

Finally, I wanted to comment on the author's craft. At another point in the interview at the end of the book, Adiga said he wanted to make the book not boring and I think he did a great job with this. The plot clipped along and didn't meander into meaninglessness as did Naive Super or plod along with pointless detail as did David Copperfield. This is a rare trait in a novel and I think the last book that did this for me from the book club was A Confederacy of Dunces. I look forward to more like it!

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